Finding Your Place of No Exceptions
When I interview someone, I listen for what interest me and explore it. While Marlene Chism chatted in my ear, I scribbled her statement, “If you can find an exception, it’s time to change the commitment.”
The idea of changing a commitment troubled me.
My interviewing style is circular. If a topic interests me, I’ll wait awhile and then get back to it. After a while, I said, “Are you ok with this statement?”
“If you can find an exception, it’s time to change the commitment.” Marlene said, “Yes.”
Finding clarity is both pleasure and pain. Clarity is necessary for us to, as Bill George would say, “Find our true North.” It’s a joy. On the other hand, it’s a kick in the gut because clarity exposes inconsistencies.
The day after our conversation, I quoted Marlene’s statement to my wife. She instantly got it. We both thought about our life together. I used to think I was committed to make her happy. Of course, no one can “make” anyone happy. The best I can say is I want her to be happy.
We’re at that stage in life where meaning and purpose mean something; where finding ourselves and finding each other matters. The kids are grown and gone.
I’m committed to building a meaningful life together; no buts.
What about leadership:
Exceptions define commitments. They help us see who we are, understand our values, and set a course into the future. Living in exceptions, on the other hand, keeps us in the past.
Become the leader you are meant to be by finding your place of no exceptions; where there’s nothing to prove, defend, or explain.
“The one with clarity navigates the ship,” Chism.
What is your place of no exceptions? What are your commitments?
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Good post Dan. I like it. “Clarity exposes inconsistencies.” When we are clear, we can see clearly the way forward. Clarity exposes inconsistencies in our behavior, other people’s behaviors, and in how organizations are run. This gives us an opportunity to learn and / or help others shift their thinking.
However, if we have clarity, and cannot get alignment, then we either have to work to change the things around us, change how we will approach the things around us, or become dis-integrated. We must choose to alter the situation, alter others, or alter ourselves , and put aside what we know to be right.
Clarity w/o alignment sounds painful to me. The most painful times in my life are the realization I’m misaligned.
Clarity comes when I see myself, see my purpose, and see direction. The process of getting there, for me, is always uncomfortable.
Thanks for starting today’s conversation.
Hi Dan, I am still wrestling with the statement. I am exactly at the same stage you are in my life and have the same commitment to my wife and close circle of friends and we like you have an empty nest. I guess the way I can best understand the phrase is that exceptions remind us and pull us back toward what our commitment is or should be. So in Leadership not sure how to translate the statement other than if exceptions occur and we are OK with them, then yes I understand it is time to change commitments. You may need to help me with this one and I will get my wife’s take on it when she wakes. If the statement alludes to what is “carved in marble” for me then as a leader my integrity comes to mind with one of my favorite phrases “there is no such thing as a lapse in integrity. Anyway will think on it some more. Wonder what Doc and the rest of the community will say. Have a blessed and great day as I say my morning prayer. “God thank you for today, please bless my work and play.” Cheers 🙂
Good morning Al,
Thanks for being a wrestler.
Be careful what you ask your wife. She’s probably has more clarity than you do. 😉 Speaking of that, this morning, my wife said, I guess I’m not committed to eating healthy.
Maybe her statement illustrates the point. If being committed to eating healthy means you never eat cake then it’s time to redefine the commitment.
I find redefinition uncomfortable.
Best to you,
Al is a featured contributor on Leadership Freak. Read his bio at: http://leadershipfreak.wordpress.com
Good point, Al – the exceptions do tend to make us think about why we need/want to do something different this time. Certainly in the example of marriage that you talk about, if you find an exception to the one-woman commitment then you’re not really committed. I get those kinds of things, but other commitments that I make at work seem less clear cut.
Good morning Dan,
Great post as always. This one will keep me busy for most of the week I think – looking for exceptions to my commitments at home, at my volunteer activities and at work. And gaining clarity in a time of great transition for my family and for me personally. My spouse retired a little over two weeks ago, daughter and her family (including a 3 mo. Old granddaughter) moved to Australia, and seeking clarity around my work as a leadership coach. Thanks for always getting me engaged, and focused.
There’s real life in your comment. Even though transition is an opportunity, I can’t say I’m that excited when they visit. In a way, my wife and I are learning what we want to give ourselves to. In order to do that, we’re thinking about who we are and who we want to be. It’s “interesting.” Definitely worth it.
Dan, this is what my Dad use to call the non-negotiables. He taught us that to compromise on those was to compromise who we were. I think we all know people who have compromised, the ones who live for expediency.
Mine tend to center around my faith, so I won’t go into detail out of respect for others who may not share it. Those are what drive my behaviors toward family and others.
I need to think more about the statement about exceptions and commitment. It does seem logical that someone who will make an exception is less committed than one who won’t. It also seems like there aren’t very many things in life we can honestly say we will never make an exception to. We could all come up with half a dozen, but maybe not more than that.
I think you are right Greg. There is probably a handful of things in life that most of us hold sacred and are “non-negotiable.” You are also right about work and in fact leadership sometimes demands that we look at the “big picture” and make exceptions for the better good down the road. So you are right, personal commitments certainly are sometimes different than work but I would dare say that our value set, honesty, humility, character, courage, trust, and integrity identify who you are and it makes no difference what the environment maybe.
I appreciate the statement “Exceptions define commitments. Leaders are exceptions because they are class, not mass. Masses are not exception because they are not class. I believe, commitment is value oriented. When people are committed , it is more concerned about their belief and values. It means that they find their value rewarded, appreciated, protected and that is why they develop commitment.
My place of no exception is my belief about ethics and morality. Irrespective of people, place and position I believe and continue to belief about ethics and morality. I can not be selective in certain situations, circumstances or events. In this way, I derive more happiness and satisfaction. I feel proud when I talk and believe in values. Though there are hindrances but ultimately I win over. I also strongly believe that when you follow the path of ethics and honesty, you have to ready to struggle and suffer, but ultimately truth prevails and wins.
Ajay, you’re absolutely right when you say that being ethical and honest will require struggle, as will a no-exceptions approach to commitments. Thanks for the reminder that we need to be cautious of the easiest path.
Ajay I also agree with you that ethics and morality fall clearly into the category of must have and can not be without but you are right it is a struggle at times and I guess having to choose between being true to yourself or diverting your values for any situation can be a challenge.
Sounds like you are talking about excuses not exceptions.
I was reading about Mayan signs and symbols the other day as part of an advent devotion I am writing for my church. I am writing about the Mayan Prayer we participated in while in Guatemala. As I kept googling, I ran across the Mayan Zodiac signs. I am not a big horoscope/zodiac person but I had to laugh when I read the definition for my birthdate – the Yaxk’in sign is characterized by (among other things) this: “This sign also has one downfall which is doubt. Ah Kin was known as the bringer of doubt and indecision. Learn to trust in your decisions and the decisions of those around you.”
That’s perhaps afield from leadership but somehow it seems germane to the topic of exceptions in our lives and how we choose to handle them. I do struggle with doubt (maybe it’s reassuring that the Mayans did too all those thousands of years ago??), so the road to a place of no (fewer?) exceptions seems terribly long, arduous and rocky. What I heard in your conversation with Marlene, in which you came back around to an original point after time had elapsed, is that she did not allow your question, which could have raised doubt, to sway her from her original thought. I think one of the keys to finding places of “no exceptions” lies in trusting ourselves and learning that the “noise” around us is sometimes just that — and we should not be swayed from what we know to be true.
I charted a slightly different course Dan…is there an absolute point of no return? (Maybe if the earth were flat)
Keeping with the navigational analogy…the captain of the Titanic said he felt we could hold the course, there aren’t that many icebergs out in the ocean and besides that one ahead looks pretty small on top…and of course we are unsinkable. Those might be one or two exceptions to change the commitment.
For me, Marlene’s first part of the statement..’if you can find an exception’ carries great weight. Being willing to not just see, but seek is the constant challenge. Regardless of the domain, leadership or life, seeking those ripples, subtle current changes, helps us decide whether or not to adjust our course and redefines our commitment. Ensuring that we have those ‘pause/reset’ horizon scan moments is essential to improve (and not make as many mistakes). If we are sailing with the wind, we have to tack periodically so the true North course is not a straight line. (Part of the fun of the journey too!)
Gotta say, quite a few parallel paths happening here in LF land. Woke up early this morning, before reading the blog, and was thinking ala Twisted Sister—“what do you want to do with the rest of your life?” Catching those periodic mortality exceptions creeping up in the rear view mirror it seems. Still pondering of course and tacking into the wind a bit more.
Doc, love the reminder that a northerly course isn’t always headed due north. Thanks for that. By the way, I’m with you on the “rest of my life” thinking. It can be discouraging and exhiliarating at the same time.
Dan, interesting blog today. I’m in the same situation in a different way. I’m married with 3 kids, the oldest being 4 and the youngest 3 months old. Running my own business, and my wife working part time, so I have the kids for two days. I identify with this statement.
“We’re at that stage in life where meaning and purpose mean something; where finding ourselves and finding each other matters”.
My wife and I are working on making sure we don’t hit the cruise control button just to escape the craziness, and then wake up 20 years later and wonder what has happened with our lives and our relationship. No exceptions to this statement. I want to be purposeful throughout the chaos. Your blog helps me to do this.
“If you can find an exception, it’s time to change the commitment.”
Hum, sounds like some (all) politicians I have listened to lately.
One way to view this statement, if one places him/herself into the mode of searching for an exception, then the desire to change the commitment is already in place. The individual is just looking for the excuse.
Another way to apply this statement, one needs to always be open to considering the data that established the commitment in the first place and when new data changes or presents alternative viewpoints, reconsidering the original commitment might be in order.
For example, 80 years ago, Herbert Heinrich presented his “Accident Pyramid.” As the theory goes for every 300 near-miss incidents there will be 29 minor and one major injury (fatality). Safety professionals for decades have “committed” their entire careers on Heinrich’s theory as the basis for why paying attention to safety in the workplace is so important.
Heinrich’s theory is coming under assault right now on a variety of fronts, which is causing many safety professionals to not want to accept the “newly discovered data” that refutes Heinrich theory. His theory essentially stated that by focusing on the 300 near misses, the number of injuries and serious injuries would decline. Turns out, his theory was based on gut feelings versus empirically measured data. Injury data over the past 10 years have shown a decrease in minor injuries, but a significant increase in the severity of serious injuries. In the safety world, showing that Heinrich’s theory is bogus is tantamount to disproving Einstein’s theory of Relativity.
It will be interesting to see how long it takes for committed safety professionals to finally accept the exception and adjust their commitment to the 80 year old Heinrich Theory.
Jim thank you for providing the great example that you did. As I read more of the comments I am starting to get a better understanding of the statement and you are right about the politicians. 🙂
When I think of “no exceptions” the list narrows. Dr. Laura Schlessinger aslking people on her radio show, “Is this the hill you want to die on.” There are not many hills I want to die on. If I had a no exception rule to apply outside of the obvious places like marital fidelity and such, I would like it to be in how I blessed other lives. But my selfishness still lives.