The Essence of Personal Effectiveness: My Chat with Fred Kofman

I have made a million mistakes in my life. It’s just one failure after another….If I ever wrote an autobiography, it would be called Extraordinary Failures. – Fred Kofman

As part of the interview series I host for The Career Space, this week I sat down for a fireside chat with philosopher Fred Kofman. In short, the conversation was a wake-up call for my listeners and me.

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I found myself inexorably drawn in to a personal investigation of how I show up in the world and how to transform the trajectory of my life using simple, profound principles that Fred has honed through 30+ years of investigation into business best practices, economic theory, and mindfulness.

Perhaps because the interview was done in video format, it made it especially raw and real, but I found that not only did I show up personally but I felt that Fred did, too.

When he made the reference to his unwritten memoir Extraordinary Failures, it was in response to a question I asked about how he and other highly-awake individuals stay in a place of seeing their reaction to each situation in their lives as a choice.

“If you are in a snowstorm, you don’t just sit down and say, ‘I wish it weren’t snowing.” If you do, you’ll freeze to death….Instead, you get a jacket, start walking, do something. You have always have a choice to make.’”

The focus of our talk was “response-ability,” which Fred sees as fundamental to personal effectiveness. We are only truly effective when we view every situation we find ourselves in as presenting us with a choice – a choice of how to respond.

Humans self-soothe by seeing ourselves as the benevolent being in our story—the faultless one that things happen to which we have no control over.

For example, if we are late for a meeting we say it was because “the traffic was bad.” When we do this, we miss the opportunity to be personally powerful, by refusing to see that we have a part in everything that happens to us. In response to the reality, for example, that the traffic is bad, we could make the decision to leave the house earlier. When we start to see every situation we find ourselves in in this way, inquiring of ourselves, “In light of this situation I find myself in, what do I do?” we can change our lives in extraordinary ways.

To further exemplify his point, Fred cited Cesar Milan, the Dog Whisperer, who says that his clients who come to “fix” the problems with their dogs’ behavior are surprised when Cesar turns the lens on them, asking, “What do you do when your dog does that?” Looking at things in this way is a fundamentally different way to approach problems in our lives, one that is absolutely effective.

How though, I asked Fred, do we deal with situations at work when others are letting us down? By being compassionate with ourselves but also laser focused on, in light of the situation we face, what we want to do about it. As Fred says, “There is no one-handed clap,” but rather every situation has two sides. When we self-soothe by telling ourselves that things are “happening to us,” we refuse to see that we are a full partner in what is happening.

If we are in a quarrel with our partner or our children, what we want to do about it is an effective inquiry to ask ourselves, rather than the ineffective story we tell ourselves about how we are disappointed by their behavior or that they hurt us for x or y reason.

Unconditional response-ability is self-empowering. It lets you focus on those aspects of the situation that you can influence. – Fred Kofman, Conscious Business

As our conversation continued, I found myself asking Fred how to ground the profound principles he espouses and mentors others in in practical application. That took us to the fairly simple, underlying message of always returning to the self-inquiry of “What is my part in this?” and “Faced with the set of circumstances I find myself in, what will I do?” Having him ground the philosophy in a mantra we can return to again and again gave me, and my community, a gift we can continue to access throughout our lives.

You can watch/listen to the full interview with Fred here. Also, check out his open-source Conscious Business Academy, a terrific new resource that translates Fred’s principles from his seminal work Conscious Business: How to Build Values through Values into a set of practical video lessons that you can use personally and with your teams to continue to conversation of how to take response-ability and become increasingly effective personally and in the cultures of our organizations.

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