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Good morning Gentle Reader.

These past few days I have been thinking about leaders, followers, and leadership.  I have also engaged in a number of conversations with leaders. One question I presented to each of them was: What are the six most difficult things for you to do as a leader?  Given our conversations I have been thinking about leaders and what they do – the easy and the difficult things they do.

There was a period of time, 2001-2010, that I wrote down a leader’s response to this question.  During 2010 I took time to re-visit their responses and I emerged a list.  I have decided to offer you the list today.  The six are ranked in order of the number of responses from the leaders (this is the 2010 list).  Since 2010 I have shared this with other leaders and with a number of ‘consultants’ and I have found general agreement with and support for my list.

CONSIDER: 6 difficult things for a leader to do – perhaps for most of us to do; they certainly are a challenge for me.

  1. Return love for hate
  2. Include the excluded
  3. Admitting that he/she is wrong
  4. Offer healing when wounding occurs (especially to self —- self-violence is, perhaps, the greatest violence)
  5. Saying ‘thank you’
  6. Being vulnerable (two ways)
    • Being transparent = being fully human
    • Carrying the wound gracefully (from the Latin, ‘vulnus’ to carry a wound with grace) – You will be wounded, both intentionally and un-

Gentle Reader: What are the six most difficult things for you to do?

 

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Passion = the fire within that nurtures rather than consumes; my life-breath/spirit (spirit comes from the Latin ‘spirare’ which means ‘to breathe’); the taproot that feeds our spirit; a driving energy – a need to connect (to self, to another, to community); a healing energy that I can bring or that I can accept, embrace and integrate.

Gentle Reader, here are some ‘Passion Questions’ that I invite you to consider (as you consider these you might emerge some others that speak more directly to you):

  1. If you were to develop a documentary about something that moves you, what would it be?
  2. If you started a foundation to address a need, what foundation would you start?  What’s the need that would be addressed?
  3. What issue would you like to see someone write about? What keeps you from writing about this issue?  What might motivate you to write about it?
  4. What would you like to learn about; to study and perhaps to master? What keeps you from learning about it (if not mastering it)?
  5. Who do you get together with in order to have ‘deep’ conversations; how often do you get together?  What are some of the topics that you’ve explored together? What emerged from your searching/exploring together?
  6. Is there a need in the world that you would work full time addressing if you were compensated as you would need (not ‘like’) to be compensated? Is there a need in the world that you would work full time addressing if there was no direct compensation?

I am not sure why, but these words of Pierre Teilhard de Chardin just emerged into my consciousness: Someday, after we have mastered the wind, the waves, the tide and gravity, we shall harness the energies of love.  Then, for the second time in the history of the world, man will have discovered fire. 

 

Being accountable is often tricky once you embrace and engage it.  I remember many years ago I was taught that there are two major types of error.  Type ‘A’ error means I am getting it wrongType ‘B’ error means I am not getting it right enough; I am missing opportunities.  The difference is crucial.

Most individuals, relationships, and organizations I know are overly focused on, if not obsessed with, Type ‘A’ errors.  I suppose because the mistakes seem easier to spot, if not correct.  Type ‘B’ errors seem to go unnoticed or are under-valued.  How often do we identify and hence miss opportunities to improve and/or to do things no one else has thought of?  How often do we identify and hence miss opportunities to experiment and, instead, spend almost all of our time on maintaining?

As I reflect upon this it seems to me that ‘Being Accountable’ also comes in two types.  One is our responsibility for not getting it wrong; the other for making ‘it’ better than it otherwise would have been.

Robert K. Greenleaf, the father of modern-day servant-leadership asks if those served grow as persons; this is the second type of accountability it seems to me.  The Golden Rule, which is present in all of the world’s major faith and philosophic traditions is other example of this type of accountability.  Here is another: Love your neighbor as yourself.  A challenge indeed it is.  Love, in other words, is not just about doing right by someone it is about making things happen with or for someone which would never have happened otherwise.  The ‘lover’ and the ‘loved’ are better off because of the loving done and received.

Gentle Reader, I invite you to stop, step aside and reflect a bit.  Here are a few guiding questions that you might find to be helpful: At this time in my life, what am I not getting right enough?  During the past six months, what are some opportunities I have missed and what are some opportunities I have embraced?  During the past year, which persons have grown because I have served them well?  How often do I act rooted in love?  [AN ASIDE: One of the richest and most powerful men in our country once told me that he did not make a business decision if the decision was not rooted in love.  As I observed him interact with others I came to believe him.]

 

How many times during these past 50+ years did I wake up and catch myself surfing the waves of the next best thing or idea?  How often do I forget that waves crash and it is the deep currents that have true staying power?  How often do I also get caught up wading in the shallows, fearful of the depth and the darkness that holds the deep currents that are always calling me to ‘go deeper still?’

In addition to waves and shallows, I also experience being in whirlpools.  What others do and think and say can quickly suck me into their vortex.  I am so busy riding waves, wading in the shallows or swirling in whirlpools that I become lost.  More than lost, I am in danger of disconnecting from my soul, from ‘entheos’ (the spirit that animates us and provides us with our life-breath) – that part of me that can only be accessed from the depths of my being.

When I am lost this way I know I must re-find my soul, my sustaining spirit.  I know I must leave the waves, the shallows, the whirlpools and dive into the depths.  Here, in the solitude I am able to renew so I can reenter refreshed and reinvigorated.  The deep currents are patient and as they slowly and powerfully move along they continuously call me to go deeper still.

The water nourishes and cleanses and purifies.  There is, for me, another option – a balance, if you will.

The other option I have is to go, not into the deep currents (the depth), but into the desert, to enter into the wilderness (the negative side of the wilderness is the wasteland – and I have certainly spent time there also).  I enter the desert in order to be still.  To reconnect with the divine within.  To listen for the whisper of the spirit that guides and sustains me.  It is hard for me to hear the soft whisper when I am distracted by all of the noise, my internal noise, and when I am distracted by all of my ‘doings,’ my busyness.  Like so many of us in our Culture, I am not only distracted by my inner noise and external busyness I am also addicted to both.  I am also, like so many of us in our Culture, addicted to the ‘waves’ and to ‘speed.’

Noise, distractions, busyness and speed hinder, if not directly prohibit, my/our going into either the deep currents or seeking solitude in the desert.  Our mantra seems to be: Give us the waves to ride!

 

Yesterday morning I was settling in at one of my favorite coffee shops.  Sitting close to me were two folks and as I was opening my backpack to retrieve a book one of them was concluding a sentence with these words: ‘Now that is what I call a religious experience.’

For the next few hours I held a question: ‘What is a religious experience?’  Early in the afternoon I thought of the great English poet, Wordsworth.  So this morning, Gentle Reader, let the word on ‘Religious Experience’ be with a poet.  Consider Wordsworth’s lines; the lines he composed a few miles above Tintern Abbey.  Wordsworth describes the energy of his earlier enthusiasm for nature and the way in which this has given way to something deeper:

   For I have learned
   To look on nature, not as in the hour
   Of thoughtless youth; but hearing oftentimes
   The still sad music of humanity,
   Nor harsh nor grating, though of ample power
   To chasten and subdue.—And I have felt
   A presence that disturbs me with the joy
   Of elevated thoughts; a sense sublime
   Of something far more deeply interfused,
   Whose dwelling is the light of setting suns,
   And the round ocean and the living air,
   And the blue sky, and in the mind of man:
   A motion and a spirit, that impels
   All thinking things, all objects of all thought,
   And rolls through all things. Therefore am I still
   A lover of the meadows and the woods
   And mountains; and of all that we behold
   From this green earth; of all the mighty world
   Of eye, and ear,—both what they half create,
   And what perceive; well pleased to recognize
   In nature and the language of the sense
   The anchor of my purest thoughts, the nurse,
   The guide, the guardian of my heart, and soul
   Of all my moral being.

Here nature is experienced as self-transcending – leading the mind to that which is ‘far more deeply interfused’.

Here, Gentle Reader, is the raw material of religious experience.  Thanks, William.  [Gentle Reader, if these lines speak to you I invite you to spend time with the poem in its entirety.]

Twenty-five years ago I was introduced to the writings of Douglas Steere a Quaker whose gentle insight-full and challenging writings continue to influence and impact me.  Recently I was revisiting his writings and my notes.

Many years ago he perceptively noted that there is a pervasive form of contemporary violence to which the idealist most easily gives in to: activism and overwork.  Today his perception continues to hold.  In our Culture we are addicted to speed, we are suffering from the dis-ease of hurry sickness [my thanks to Milan Kundera for naming this sickness], we are addicted to distraction and we are washed over externally and internally by the tsunami called ‘noise.’

As a consequence we do violence to ourselves and to one another.  The violence is a violence of self-depletion.  The very dimensions that we must nurture in order to be health-full and not dis-eased we are choosing to deplete.  How do we do this?

We choose to be carried away by a multitude of conflicting concerns, we surrender to too many demands, we commit to too many projects, we spend discretionary energy – the energy that is not easily replaced – in ways that are not nurturing but are depleting.  We cooperate in doing violence to ourselves.

Our frenzy destroys our inner capacity for peace.  Our frenzy destroys the fruitfulness of our efforts.  Our frenzy kills the tap roots that feed and sustain our inner wisdom – the wisdom that helps us make our life fruit-full.  We might be committed to non-violence, but, it seems, not to ourselves.

Speaking of nonviolence.  Nonviolence rooted in love, compassion and empathy seeks to embrace and engage the other.  It does not seek to castigate, humiliate or destroy the other.  How often do we support, if not engage in, a nonviolence that seeks to defeat and humiliate the other by a spiritual attack rather than a physical attack.  ‘True nonviolence’ is, to say the least, deeply challenging.

‘True nonviolence’ strives to operate without hatred, without hostility, without resentment, without dehumanizing the other.  ‘True nonviolence’ seeks to identify, call forth and embrace the good that resides in the other.  This, as we know only too well, is not easy to do especially when the other has been aroused to a bitter and violent defense of an injustice which the other believes to be just.

We know, again from experience, that it is possible for the most bitter arguments, the most virulent hatreds, to arise among those who are supposed to be working together for noble causes.  As Thomas Merton noted: Nothing is better calculated to run and discredit a holy ideal than a fratricidal war among ‘saints’.

A third consideration.

Consider that until ‘WE’ [This ‘WE’ varies] recognize the right of other nations, races, societies to be different from us and to stay different, to have different ideas and to open up new horizons for us our ‘prayers’ that they will be converted will be useless – and meaningless.  It will be no better and no worse than ‘their’ idea that we will someday become exactly like them.  And, by the by, they are willing to destroy us if we are not willing to become like them AND we are willing to destroy them if they are not willing to become like us [I am thinking of the customer that was physically assaulted by an employee because the customer was speaking a foreign language to her friend].

We both want the other to embrace our attitudes, our prejudices, our values, our language, and our limitations (although we don’t usually identify this last ‘want’ openly).

Being human, compassionate, caring, empathetic, loving, accepting and embracing of the other requires us to feel in our hearts the others’ suffering, the others’ desires for a better life, the others’ dreams for acceptance and the others’ humanity.

Love one another as I have loved you. –God

 

 

Recently I visited an old friend.  Prior to our lunch I stopped in one of his retail stores.  I was impressed.  The staff were beyond competent, the climate of the store was warm and welcoming, laughter abounded and customers lingered just to be nourished by the spirit that permeated the store.  Staff unhesitatingly helped one another and did so with great cheer.  It reminded me of Starbucks in 2001.

One of the managers shared some of their story – two people many years ago seeing a need used their gifts and talents to respond to the need.  Their venture grew.  Two years ago the founders decided to ‘take the company public.’  The manager said that the plan is to add 15-17 stores a year for the next number of years.  This also reminded me of Starbucks in 2001, only on a smaller scale.

My heart shrunk.  Like Starbucks in 2001 they are able to hire the very best and they have the time to develop people and help them integrate into this wonderful culture.  It seems that so far they have not thought about how difficult, if not impossible, it will now become to continue to ‘hire the best’ and to have the time to develop people and integrate them into the culture.  In my view, Starbucks paid a huge price for losing their way [think: the ‘big dream’ that the founder held] and I am fearful that this wonderful organization that truly serves both the customer and the staff in so many powerful ways might also lose their way.

I admit I have a bias.  I think it unbalanced and unjust when one group of people, those outside of the organization, the fiscal owners – the shareholders – have so much power while being so disconnected from the enterprise while those who are intimately connected are so powerless. Why should people care for something that other people own?  Well, consider that there are two types of ownership, fiscal and emotional.  The staff in the store I visited ‘emotionally own’ their ‘Big Dream.’ Emotional ownership, I believe, trumps fiscal ownership.

The early Christians had another model.  They called it Koinonia, a community with a purpose.  The individual in such a community is a member, not an asset or a commodity or a resource.  Those who provided the investment needed to obtain their fair return, but they did not own it.  No one ‘fiscally owns’ a community; all members, however, ‘emotionally own’ the community.  The language of ‘fiscal ownership’ does not fit.  I do know some businesses that are run like this; they have integrated a community metaphor in to their very being; they are, by the way also highly ‘successful.’

Communities must grow or they will die; this is a reality.  But the type of growth that truly nurtures involves not getting bigger but getting better.  It involves developing and using the current and potential gifts, talents, abilities of its members; it involves caring for its members and it involves using current resources more fully and wisely; it also involves high achievement and serving with distinction.

Perhaps we should have thought more about those early Christians when we made property not community the basis of our law for companies so many years ago.  I still find it ironic that legally, organizations are seen as people, yet we treat them as property.

I do believe that a community with a purpose, better not bigger, Koinonia, is the kind of business that many employees would not only be proud of but be one in which they would flourish and would commit to via ‘emotional ownership.’