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Karin H.

Hi Steve

My kind of article! (side-note, just came back from a family get-together where two of my partner nieces were attending too. Both are mid-twenty, both have jobs, one is still 'childish', the other is on the verge of turning into a mature woman. One is overprotected by her mother, the other has been challenged by her parents to try-out any idea she had to see where it would end - mistakes and failures were permitted, successes were cheered).

Hmm, the side-note says it all I think ;-) Allow trials - no strict borders, provide a safety-net and pay attention to the results = 'free' spirits with responsibility traits at the ready for 'the big world'.

Karin H. (Keep It Simple Sweetheart, specially in business)

Steve Roesler

Hi, Karin,

Family get-togethers are like built-in laboratories to observe how things are unfolding. This is the time of year when a lot of us get an annual visit to the lab!

Thanks for taking time to offer a real life example...

Karin H.

If family life isn't a springboard (and 'test-lab') for real life, what is?

And coming back to another favourite of mine: in later life a mentor takes over the roll of 'challenger and safety-net' - if your lucky ;-)

Karin H.

Steve Roesler

Karin, that's an important thing for us all to remember: we could be the important person in someone's life by stepping in, taking an interest, and helping them mature.

That can be satisfying for all involved...

peter vajda

Hi, Steve,

You say, "Family get-togethers are like built-in laboratories to observe how things are unfolding. This is the time of year when a lot of us get an annual visit to the lab!"

The reason group therapy employs groups, the only reason, is that groups remind us of our families. Group situations trigger our reactivity, push our buttons and access our "stuff" and allowing the challenge and opportunity to become more conscious and self-aware of the psychodynamics that occur in families and in groups, so we can heal as adults.

The operative word here is groups. Group dynamics (family-childhood-adolescent reactivity) play out in every group (2 or more), not just our family of origin..so it's a fact that we bring our biology and our biography to just about every relationship...our love relationships, our workplace relationships, our play relationships and even interactions with strangers.

The deal is that if we become conscious of the triggers, the inner sources of our reactivity, our buttons (as it's never about him, her, it, or them; it's always about "me"), we can grow to a place of inner peace and mindfulness and "be" with others without being so reactive and be adult.

This is why so many adults are really 3-4-5 year olds in adult bodies and adult clothes. They've never done the work to grow up emotionally and largely react to life rather than respond...at home, at work and at play.

This is another reason many folks get sick at holiday time. It's not the weather; it's not what "going around." What's really "going around" in one's body is the cortisol, the chemical that drips from the brain into the body when we are stressed. What streses so many is the thought of, and then being around, their family; they've never done the work and come to terms with the anger, resentment, shame, guilt, hate, jealousy and other feelings and emotions (often unconscious, but "real" nevertheless) they have around their family. Cortisol destroys the immune system so many folks are susceptible to dis-ease and disequilibrium at this time of the year. Thus, illness of one kind or another.

Unfortunately, rather than do the work around this, they decide to medicate against the feelings through food, alcohol, TV, sleeping, shopping, etc. to "get through it."

Great post, Steve. Thanks you.

More later on Peter Pan.

Wally Bock

I think there are two other factors at play in risk-avoidance. One is that we insist on making failure/success activities out of what should be learning activities, also called experiments. The other is that we allow people to make decisions based on their position in the organization rather than their fitness to make the decision.

Jim Stroup


This is a brilliant post for this time of year, as we prepare ourselves mentally and psychologically for the next. The last two lines tie it all up: "Risk-taking and personal responsibility aren't a product of outsourcing. Neither is the next generation of leaders."

Oddly, though, we actually are outsourcing, after a fashion, our senior managers with increasing frequency. The reasons proffered generally revolve around issues such as diversity, global viewpoint, innovation, and the like. It is awfully interesting to consider this development in the light of your observations in this post.

I must also say that Wally's comments seem especially cogent to me. His last sentence is a powerful evocation of the greatest, in my view, management thinker of them all, Mary Parker Follett. ". . . fitness to make the decision." There's an awful lot there, as well.

As always, you are producing thought provoking work - thanks for a powerful boost to get us through your holiday break - hope it's a great one for you and yours!

Patrick Gallagher

Hi Steve

Interesting article you have written about risk taking and relationships. So many individuals do live in a "comfortably numb" state and never challenge their mental scripts learned in childhood.

A point that I feel so many observers of the human condition ignore is that changing a mental script (the way we perceive the external)is always provisional. It reconfigures at every moment of interaction so a state of mindfullness becomes a personal residue.

The comment about group therapy would appear to ground the descriptive framework of the blog and put forward a pro-active means of application. The virtue of the blog is that it establishes a point of departure allowing others to "run" with the idea.


peter vajda

Hi, Steve,and Happy New Year,

FWIW and just to underscore a point. Above, I mentioned, "...This is another reason many folks get sick at holiday time. It's not the weather; it's not what "going around." What's really "going around" in one's body is the cortisol, the chemical that drips from the brain into the body when we are stressed"...related to visting family.

Today, 2/2 I've been connecting with clients and colleagues to wish them a Happy New Year. Already, three and a half hours into the day, I have seven responses, four of which are, "...have been under the weather – back tomorrow – will be in touch then..." and "...I've been battling the flu bug and that has drained me this holiday season...." "..I had a hard time going home..." and "...it's a tough time for me when I'm around my dad..."

...and when I wrote back asking about stressors (to those who weren't specific, intially), to a person, each referred to "family" in some way, shape or form. For me, much of the illness and dis-ease we experience at work is also often related to "family-related" issues...how we react unconsciously or consciously to folks at work as if they were members of our family...in the way they push our buttons and trigger our reactivity and in the way we put our projections and transferences on to them. I think it's important and useful to just "see" this dynamic and be aware of it.

Steve Roesler

Peter, the totality of your comments are posts in themselves (not unusual)!

I've read them both a few times now and what occurs to me is that these kinds of "December stresses" are often repetitive and predictable dramas. I've certainly participated in my share until realizing that smirking about them each year wasn't very helpful or healthy.

Once people became aware of such a circumstance, a decision needs to be made about how to respond differently and, at minimum, break the impact for one's self, don't you think?

Steve Roesler

Well, Wally, you've managed to succinctly cut through the baloney yet again.

Point #1: Until managers of all levels decide to approach risk as learning vs. win/lose or your good/you stink, people are going to shy away from sticking their necks out. Really, most of us "get" that we're supposed to hit certain targets and most people I know actually give it a good shot. We back off when the person we work for only evaluates and leaves off the "OK, what can we learn from this?" step.

Point #2: I dare say there's an unwritten code that says "Because you are (fill in the title), you are therefore fit to make all decisions associated with the title."

Another case of our unspoken assumptions coming back to bite us later, eh?

Steve Roesler

Very kind, Jim.

You know, I hadn't thought about those issues the way you presented them. Now I've got a lot more to think about :-)

But yesterday I came out of meeting involving a very direct, to-the-point CEO and was struck by how much he is able to accomplish without adopting buzzword programs and fads du jour. I asked him why he doesn't speak in those terms, only because it is (refreshingly) unusual. His response:

"I believe we need to pay attention to the kernels of important truths in things like talent management, diversity, innovation, and leader development. So I simply make them a part of the workplace by incorporating the proper related actions. That way people don't get into 'program worship' or spend inordinate amounts of time at something that may not make sense in it's entirety."

Not bad.

Steve Roesler


Thank you for taking time to stop in and comment. I apologize for my lateness in responding.

You've given us something new to ponder: ..."changing a mental script (the way we perceive the external)is always provisional. It reconfigures at every moment of interaction so a state of mindfullness becomes a personal residue."

The idea of blogs being a point of departure is really something that those of us who blog should constantly keep in our minds (until the residue builds :-)

Thanks again, Patrick. I look forward to more of your insights and commentary.

Cam Beck

Jim Stroup pointed me back to this article, and I'm glad he did.

I have been thinking recently about how our society (though not unique to this age, recent events in the mortgage industry certainly is a prime example) seems to reinforce this notion that we need to be protected from all sorts of risks -- risks of losing our jobs, risks of growing too old, etc., when there are things we can (and must) do to mitigate these risks ourselves.

It is not that this strategy doesn't have its risks (for there is an opportunity cost associated with the resources required to mitigate the risk), but that the burden of the risk is our responsibility to bear, and not our neighbors'.

I'm not sure what the complete answer is, but generally, I would caution against reinforcing the notion through our institutions that risk is to be avoided at all costs. Most of the time when we subscribe to such fanciful notions, we aren't accounting for all the important risks and costs anyway.

Steve Roesler

Hey there, Cam,

Well, if you're hanging out with Jim you are in good company.

There seems to be a struggle for power--it's always about power, regardless of the issue.

The issue here is "Who is going to be in charge of a person's life: the individual or government/institutions?" In democracies, politicians are able to gain power by promising to "care for the needs" of people. It becomes problematic when governments then dictate how people's needs will be taken care, what values they will therefore be required to live by, and who is allowed to intervene in all levels of one's existence.

At least in democracies, people can soul search and choose to vote for a radical change if they so desire. At the same time, the integrity and value system of those running for office will really determine if the choices are genuine or cosmetic.

This is, indeed, a far-reaching conversation.

Thanks for weighing in, Cam.

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