For many years Decurion has offered its members a course called The Practice of Self-Management.  Over ten weeks, we explore readings and practices aimed at helping people develop three skill sets:  the ability to be more present, the ability to dissolve apparent barriers between ourselves and others, and the ability to make what is subject into object in order to reduce reactivity and to engender appropriate responses.  We think these skills enhance both personal development and business effectiveness.

During the course’s penultimate week, we address skillful speech.  We begin with some observations about listening.  Krishnamurti notes “if we try to listen we find it extraordinarily difficult because we are always projecting our opinions and ideas, our prejudices, our background, our inclinations, our impulses; when they dominate we hardly listen at all to what is being said” (from J. Krishnamurti, Talks and Dialogues).  Having spent many weeks working on being more present and on observing our constant internal dialogue, we attempt to create space for true listening. Read the full article…

Servant leadership is one of Decurion’s six core values.  The term comes from Robert K. Greenleaf’s essay, “The Servant as Leader.”  When I first encountered this essay, I had the sense that Greenleaf was describing many of Decurion’s views and approaches but was doing so much more eloquently than we had yet managed.  Many years have passed since that first encounter, and I continue to value not only Greenleaf’s ideas but also the way he expresses them.  The following sentences (with my underlining) come directly from his essay, collected in Servant Leadership:  A Journey into the Nature of Legitimate Power and Greatness. Read the full article…

Everyone has something unique to express, some unique gift or gifts to give to the world. Giving that gift is our Work or purpose. And in giving it, we are most truly ourselves. Taking the time and making the effort to clarify our purpose leads to a greater sense of wholeness, connection, and meaning. Here is an exercise I found useful in clarifying my purpose. It comes from The Path of the Everyday Hero by Lorna Catford and Michael Ray. Read the full article…

Here is a talk I gave last month at the 25-year reunion of my class at Stanford’s Graduate School of Business.  It picks up and brings together several of the themes from earlier blog posts.

I always knew I would join the family business.  I’d follow my father as he had followed his.  Growing up I didn’t think about a career or about the unfolding of a life filled with purpose.  I certainly didn’t connect the two.  I treated the guarantee of a job as a source of freedom.  And in college and graduate school I studied what I loved (namely, ancient history and philosophy) rather than what I thought might be useful in business.

Then when I began working full-time at the family company (The Decurion Corporation, which operates movie theaters and develops real estate), I was, well, miserable.  The intellectual stimulation and clear standards of academe had disappeared.  In their place were mundane and pointless tasks.  After two years of what seemed like serving time I left for business school. Read the full article…

In a recent Atlantic article, Emily Esfahani Smith argues for the merit of a meaningful life as opposed to a happy life.  She cites psychological researchers whose study showed that happiness is about feeling good and that people become happy when they get what they want.  According to one of the study’s authors, “‘Happy people get a lot of joy from receiving benefits from others, while people leading meaningful lives get a lot of joy from giving to others.’”  Meaning comes from giving part of oneself away to others, from making a sacrifice on behalf of the overall group, from investing oneself in something bigger than oneself. Read the full article…

When I was in high school and then at university, I viewed good grades as something to be earned.  If I worked hard enough and had a little luck, I could get A’s.  This view carried over to Decurion.  In my early days at the company, we were debating whether or not “respect” was one of the company’s core values.  I argued that respect was something one earned, not something we should simply confer on one another.  My focus remained on the outcome, not on the process; on the achievement, not on the person.  All changed utterly ten years later when I attended a rehearsal of the USC Symphony Orchestra led by Benjamin Zander, the conductor of the Boston Philharmonic. Read the full article…

In the previous post, I listed “building learning communities” as one of the lines of development essential for success at Decurion.  In this post, I want to share our understanding of what the process of building such communities involves.

A characteristic of learning communities is their ability to recognize the “other” as legitimate, to embrace difference and diversity.  Too often, we regard diversity as a problem to be solved rather than an opportunity to be prized.  Unlike mobs or cults, healthy communities embrace differences as opportunities to falsify their assumptions of wholeness.  They convert their suspicion of the “other” to a recognition of their own incompleteness. Read the full article…

While theories are like maps that describe already existing territory, practices actually create new territory as one engages in them.

At Decurion, we are creating new territory through the interaction of our ideas, our commitments, and our practices.  Servant leadership, systems thinking, confronting the brutal facts, and spiraling the quadrants (to name just a few examples) are not only ideas but also practices in which we can directly engage.  We are continually doing our way into knowing.  And we have identified four levels of knowing.  The levels are:  understanding, practicing, internalizing, and building.  It is one thing to understand how a certain practice might enhance our effectiveness (level 1).  It is another to engage in the practice (level 2) until we have internalized it as a settled disposition (level 3).  And it is a significant step to see that disposition as object, not subject (as something we have rather than something we are) so that we can apply it or build systems based on it (level 4).

Read the full article…

Developmental growth lies at the heart of Decurion’s approach to business. One of our axioms is that individuals and communities naturally develop. One of our values is learning, a belief in providing an opportunity and environment for individuals to develop, grow, and contribute. And our purpose, to provide places for people to flourish, includes creating conditions for people to develop more fully into themselves. So what do we know about developmental growth?

Read the full article…