On Building a Bigger Corral 🐎🐐🐓🐕🐖🐂

In the summer of 2011, I found myself in a workshop with the Hendricks Institute in Ventura, California. This workshop changed the course of my life and I want to share one of the brightest gems with you. 

What brought me to the workshop was that I wanted to fix my relationship with my then girfriend, Christine. We had been together for just over a year and predictably, shit had gotten real. We were caught in a cycle of blame, criticism, and power struggles. Therapy had been no help to us – at least not the therapist we had chosen at the time. This workshop with Dr. Kathlyn Hendricks was a last ditch effort to recussitate our relationship. 

The final day of the workshop, we mustered up the courage to approach Dr. Hendricks during a break. With tears streaming down both our cheeks, we told her that we were afraid that we were just too different to be compatible. Katie, as we now know her, registered our concern, put her hands on our shoulders like a coach in a huddle, and reassured us with these words: “You two clearly love one another. You just need to build a bigger corral.” 

We wiped away the tears, breathed a collective sigh of relief, and got to work on building that bigger corral. Fast forward to today, we’re living happily ever after, married with two beautiful children and a  cat named Sneakers. In fact, Katie herself officiated our wedding the following year. 

As many of us are heading into the Thanksgiving break with various configurations of relatives who put the fun in dysfunction, I thought it might be helpful to pay it forward by sharing Katie’s words of wisdom with you. 

How can you build a bigger corral for yourself – the wiggle room to be your most authentic self – and how can you extend that graciousness to others, too? 

Lemme know how it goes! 

Meanwhile, if you’re bracing for heated debates about religion and politics, two of my favorite podcasts from our first season of Unleashing Social Change might be worth a listen (or re-listen) as you make your way to wherever you’re going: 

Andrew Hanauer Director of the One America Movement talks about overcoming polarization.  

Cheryl Graeve, National Organizer for the National Institute for Civil Discourse talks about bridging any divide. 

And just in case, here is a helpful resource that my wife, Christine, shared with us last week in her Anti-Racism for White People course (now enrolling for 2020): 

Rachel Elizabeth Cargle’s “How to Talk to Your Family about Racism on Thanksgiving.”


What’s your “work costume?” 🎃

I just got back from giving a keynote address to the fabulous Missouri and Illinois Community Behavioral Health Conference in St. Louis. They asked me to stay afterwards and do a session, which I was so happy to do. I hadn’t planned anything ahead of time – I just thought a few people would have some questions after the keynote, we’d bang those out, and they could go to a more interesting session. 




The breakout room was literally packed! And I am a huge fan of interactive, experiential learning so I had to figure out something fast! 


I asked about a half-dozen people in the room what they thought this session was going to be, figuring that might inform my decision with what to do with all these people who’ve come to see me! 


Folks popcorned out a wide variety of things they wanted to explore so I decided on the spot to introduce them to a key framework we use as the basis for our two-year fellowship. Basically taking any leadership issue or challenge and exploring how you are showing up in relationship to it. The gist of it is this: 

  1. Are you noticing everything that wants and needs to be noticed? 

  2. Are you allowing yourself to experience fully your own body wisdom by tuning into your sensations and emotions? 

  3. Are you expressing yourself unarguably and in a way that can be heard? 

  4. And are you taking action in an aligned way on the things that matter to you most? 


I’ve found that again and again – anytime there’s a glitch in my own attempts to make ripples of positive change in the world – something has gone awry in one of those four areas. 


So we did a live case study with an incredibly brave and generous volunteer who is endeavoring heroically to navigate what seems to be a rigid and confining bureaucratic system that’s shaping how behavioral health services are delivered. 


In our live coaching interaction, she said something that I think is SO common – so widespread – that we almost take it for granted. Something so common that I want to bring it up here and see if we might loosen this up a little bit for all of us. 


She said something along the lines of, “are you asking that question of me, or me in my role?” 


And I realized immediately that she experienced daylight between who she is – her essence – and who she believes she has to be to do her job. That they’re not one and the same.

I looked out to the audience – who by the way was captivated by this brave woman’s willingness to learn in public – it really is so interesting when people are willing to do this – I have such mad respect for this woman, and I asked the crowd, “does anybody else feel this way? Like you have to put on a work costume when you go to work and that you can’t be yourself?” And a whole sea of heads bobbed up and down in agreement. 


Yup. We put on our work costumes. 


Just in time for Halloween…




Ok my dear friends. Organazations are set up to grant people responsibility as in, “this is yours to do or see to it that it gets done,” and authority as in, “this is how much authority you have to execute your responsibility.” And often there are mis-matches between responsibility and authority, usually where you have too much responsibility and not enough authority to see to it that it gets done. Which leaves us to leverage our good looks and personality and I speak from experience – that only gets me so far! But that’s it – just responsibility and authority. Anything else is made up. And since it’s made up – we can make up something different. 


What are the ways that you feel like you cannot be yourself in your work? Go ahead and name them right now. 


I know from my own experience that for 9 years I served in the military before the end of ‘don’t ask, don’t tell’ so I chose to conceal my sexual orientation Every. Single. Day. And it was soul crushing. It’s terrible not to be your true self at work. I get it. And it’s not ok. It’s not sustainable. 


Once you’re clear on the ways that you fit yourself into a work costume, here are some questions to consider: Are you sure you can’t be true to yourself? What’s the worst that would happen? Is there something you would say that you don’t believe you are permitted to say in your role? What would you say if you could? Is there something you would do that you don’t believe you can do in your role? What would you do? 


Even if you don’t say or do those things, at the very least take a minute and be honest with yourself about what those things are. That’s a start.


Maybe this Halloween season you could find one part of your true self that you’ve been holding back – one authentic communication or action – and just as a small test – see what would happen if you allowed yourself to say/do that one thing (assuming it’s legal, ethical and moral! Don’t get carried away, folks!) 


Here’s what I believe in my heart: the work to transform the world is done by real people being true to themselves, taking responsibility for what matters to them, one ripple effect of authentic communication or aligned action at a time. Being true to our roles won’t save the world. Being true to ourselves might. 


What’s the worst that could happen? 


Bonus points for anyone who sends me pictures of themselves in actual Halloween costumes! That’s me, my wife, and our kids as the “Daniel Tiger Family” last year. Happy Halloween and cheers to liberating yourselves from constraining roles just a little bit this week. 




Inspiring reminder of who we are

Greetings from the United Kingdom!

Last week we trained 130 change leaders in our Model for Unleashing through our partnership with the South West Academic Health Sciences Network at Dartington Hall (shown above). This week we’re at it again – this time in Wales – with 50+ change leaders brought together by the Cardiff and Vale University Health Board, the Life Sciences Center and the Bevan Commission. Joe, Selena and I are so grateful for their tremendous hospitality and commitment to making big change in the world, especially throughout the UK’s National Health Service. 

In addition to feeling like I had landed at Hogwarts, I’m reflecting on one of the most magical things endings to one of our workshops that I’ve ever experienced last week. 

We always end our trainings with a “one word check-out” to conclude our time together. Throughout the week, I’m always on the lookout for someone who might have something special to share with the group. Last week, we were joined by Chris Lubbe, who – in addition to being an inspirational speaker and coach – was Nelson Mandela’s bodyguard for the last nine years of his life. Chris shared his own thoughts with all of us about the African philosophy of “Ubuntu” which translates into “I am because we are.” I had goosebumps and was holding back tears as Chris spoke about returning with Nelson Mandela to the prison where he had been kept all those years and watching him chip away a piece of limestone rock to remember that experience. As he was dying, Nelson Mandela gave Chris that same rock and Chris now carries it with him everywhere as a reminder of his own experience of Ubuntu. There was not a dry eye in the room. 

I’m excited to see what this week will bring with the group from Wales!


13 Myths about Leading Large-Scale Change

If you tried to get in touch with me this past August, you got my out of office message that I would be out for the entire month. This is the first time in my adult life I’ve given myself permission to take an entire month off at once and I have to tell you – it was every bit as awesome as you can imagine!

I want to encourage everyone I know to give yourself the gift of taking a significant break from your day-to-day routine. As a result of that month away I am clearer than ever on my purpose (to deeply experience, love and respect the wholeness of the web of life) and my priorities (to assert a new paradigm of leadership, one that is authentic, bold, creative and fully embodied. Leadership that gets big things done in the world in a way that is also life-affirming and sustainable for the leader).

I spent some time working on a book that I intend to have published by the end of the year. Our working title is “How to Save the World Without Losing Yourself.” More on that soon, but one of the things I did while I was working on the book was review the feedback forms from our last couple of Skid Row School for Large-Scale Change workshops. I was struck by the huge change in thinking that people experienced over just 3 days in our workshop and wanted to share with you 13 of my favorite responses to the prompt, “I used to thing ‘x’ about leading large-scale change, now I think ‘y’….” Here they are:

  1. It’s so hard and there’s limited place for fun, lightness and play; now I believe play lightness, and fun are essential ingredients to leading large-scale change.
  2. I used to believe that it required political will to get started and keep momentum. Now I believe it’s started by thoughtful organizers and sustained by connection to humanity.
  3. I used to believe it was nearly impossible without a “killer ap.” Now I believe it’s possible with good process.
  4. I used to believe this was mostly about strategy and planning and now I believe I need to think much more about culture and leadership as well.
  5. I used to believe leading change was largely a technical challenge but now I believe it won’t happen without intentional self-reflection over time.
  6. I used to believe large-scale change required a 10 year timeline; now I believe you can have a 10 year vision, but have a series of 90 day plans.
  7. I used to believe large-scale change involved replicating the identical program exactly, now i believe we identify the most essential elements needed for fidelity and move forward from there.
  8. I used to believe it would be crushing demands on our people, now I believe it’s possible without burning out the staff who currently implement.
  9. I used to believe that it took a charismatic leader. I now believe it’s possible to plan and execute as a team.
  10. I used to believe it would be very difficult and now I can see the star and path(s) to get there.
  11. I used to believe it would be an organic process that happened naturally; now I understand the importance of intentional and brave planning.
  12. I used to believe it required a lot of resources but now I can see it is about re-alignment of the resources we already have.
  13. I’m now more aware of the deep intersection of personal values and point of view and their impact on making the change.

What I love most about these 13 reflections is they’re so aligned with what I hope to continue to share with anyone who wants to step into a new paradigm for leading big change in the world – the authenticity, boldness, and creativity that comes from fully embodying your essence as a leader.

If as you’re reading those reflections you’re thinking, “I’ll have some of that, please!” we still have some openings for the next Skid Row School for Large-Scale Change January 28th – 31st, 2020. The next one after that won’t be until Fall 2020 so if this is on your radar, please reserve a spot before the course fills up. Remember alumni can always return for free so long as you bring somebody else who actually pays.


Dispatches from Switzerland (and Italy) 👣

Hey friends!

I’m on my flight home from two amazing weeks in Europe. The first was on Lake Constanz about two hours east of Zurich where I facilitated a retreat for the Climate Breakthrough Project. I think of the Climate Breakthrough Project as the MacArthur Genius Award (and then some) for some of the most brilliant people working on climate change today. I have to tell you – after spending three days with these folks – both the awardees and the staff and board of CBP – I am feeling more optimistic than ever that we can make a difference on what is one of the greatest challenges of our time.

I met Bruce Nilles with the Rocky Mountain Institute. Previously he led the Sierra Club’s Beyond Coal campaign that played a significant role in preventing 90% of the new coal plants that had been proposed by Cheney’s secret energy task force back in the 00’s and is now well on it’s way to shutting down half of the coal plants in the country – and going for 100%. The bottom line is that coal is bad for everyone, especially the people who live downwind from the plant.

Now Bruce is working to accelerate our country’s transition off natural gas. We all know the dangers of fracking, but what I didn’t know is what a health hazard natural gas is in our own homes. It is not good for you. My takeaway is that we will be transitioning all of our appliances – hot water heater, stove/oven, dryer, and **gasp** our beloved firepit ASAP. We need a new hot water heater anyway, so that’s convenient. But when I asked Bruce how quickly we should prioritize the other appliances – which are rather new – Bruce said, “well, the world needed to be off fossil fuels yesterday, so now would be good.” All righty then. The good news is we went solar a few months ago so once we get off natural gas and get electric cars we will be off the grid minus my flights – which are by far the worst of everything combined.

Also there was a dear old friend, John Hepburn the co-founder of Unfriend Coal in Australia. He’s been working to strip away the social license of the big financial agencies who are insuring coal plants with tremendous success. Imagine you’re a coal company and you go to renew your business insurance – which I’m sure isn’t cheap – and the insurance company says, “oh, sorry, we don’t offer that any more.” That’s what John is up to. And he’s gotten through to all the major insurers in Europe and he’s coming to the US and Asia next. Watch out!

Then there’s May Mei, founder of GoalBlue, who is mobilizing hundreds of thousands of young people in China to eat less beef. Here’s the thing – in China as more and more people enter the middle class and become more affluent – eating beef is a status symbol. And China is doing a phenomenal job of elevating more and more people into the middle class – so watch out cows! But May is brilliantly tapping into social influencers and the youth and making it cool to eat less beef, and with more than a billion people living in China – it really adds up.

Then I met Tessa Khan who is a human rights lawyer from Bangladesh. She learned about a landmark case in Denmark where they successfully sued the government for not keeping faith with their human rights obligations by not adhering to what needs to be done to avert the worst effects of climate change. When Tessa learned about this case a couple of years ago, she decided to devote her entire life to using her expertise as a human rights lawyer to protect the people who will be most negatively impacted by climate change. When it comes to Tessa versus the government – any government- my money’s on Tessa!

Last but not least, I met Yang Fuqiang who is working with the government of China to design a consumption cap on oil, just like he helped them do a few years ago with coal. This is a really big deal and a really big bet. China’s fossil fuel emissions alone are significantly more than any other country on the planet, so their taking a voluntary step to cap it would make a big difference for all of us.

That’s just the awardees. The staff and board of the Climate Breakthrough Project were also each and every one of them extraordinary and brilliant and creative and committed unlike anything I’ve ever seen. They’re willing to make big bold bets and if their bets succeed, collectively it will account for about 10% of the reduction in greenhouse gas emissions that we need to realize as a planet by 2030. I mean – think about it – a small team of folks swinging for the fences to see to it that we’re 10% of the way there on averting the sixth mass extinction. What’s not to love about them? If you want to learn more check out their website.

So yeah, that was a good trip. And my takeaways were this:

(1)   Get rid of our natural gas appliances asap.

(2)   Try an impossible burger. Did you hear that Burger King has caused a worldwide shortage of these wonders of science? It’s happening.

(3)   A question inspired by the people I met: is climate change a technical problem or a spiritual/moral problem? Or both? I think it’s both. Yes – you can look at maps and graphs and substitute this form of water/food supply/energy supply for another and the geopolitics can sort itself out and in some ways it’s almost a no-brainer. All that’s lacking is the will power to do it. It’s not like we don’t know what needs to be done or that the technology doesn’t exist. But it’s also a spiritual/moral problem because the people who need to change are not the people who are most affected by the problem – which means people like me need to really put myself in the shoes of someone from Bangladesh who with rising sea levels will probably not be met at the Indian border with rainbows and unicorns but most probably pitchforks and guns. I just read that the city of Chennai is running out of water. 5 million people. Where will they go? Without a fierce spiritual/moral grounding – a deeply internalized sense of connection to all of the web of life – it’s just way too easy for me to go back to business as usual. How can I embed this into my daily life more firmly?

On a personal note, my family flew to Europe to meet me and we spent a week vacationing in the Emilia-Romagna and Tuscany regions of Italy. I have to tell you – it was the most relaxed I have been eating a meal with our children in the five years since Huck was born. We found remote farmhouses that practice what they call agriturisimo. Everything is farm to table fresh from that farm, even the wine. The food is so ridiculously good I cannot even tell you. I ate my face off in pasta and didn’t feel bloated or gain a pound. Is that just because they don’t use pesticides in their wheat like we do? Whatever they’re doing – it’s magnificent. And the farmhouses had outdoor playgrounds so the adults could leisurely dine in peace for hours while the children played on the swings, merry-go-rounds, and see-saws, zooming back and forth for a bite when they felt hungry. I feel so grateful for a real vacation with my family and wanted to share a picture with you of happy children playing in the fields while we ate our most delicious dinner of our lives. I hope each of you is able to do something rejuvenating and relaxing this summer, too.