Archive for July, 2012


The following Leadership Considerations are part of a longer reflection that I entered into my journal in November, 2005.

Leadership: A ‘traditional’ definition = ‘leadership is identified with solving problems and the purpose of leadership is finding solutions.’  For me, a counter-cultural approach to leadership is Robert K. Greenleaf’s concept of Servant-leadership.  Servant-Leadership is about serving others so they grow and develop in ways that enable them to be ‘healthy’ (Physically, Intellectually, Emotionally & Spiritually) and in ways that enable them to understand problems, polarities, paradoxes and dilemmas and in ways that enable them to engage problems, polarities, paradoxes and dilemmas ‘effectively.’  Leadership, for servant-leaders, is a by-product of the relationship between the leader and the led.  The leader also supports the led and also helps hold the led accountable; the led also supports the leader and also helps hold the leader accountable – a movement between I-You-We becomes apparent with the ultimate being the ‘We’ (as in, in the end, WE are responsible).  The breadth and depth of the complexity contained in this way is great indeed and thus it is crucial that both the individual (leader or led) and the relationship (leader and led) be attended to in ways that nurture the health of both (PIES, again), in ways that identify and use gifts and talents of both, in ways that identify and respond to the capacities of both that need to be developed or developed more fully.  Moreover, to make things complicated and challenging, at times the leader must take on the role of the led and the led must take on the role of the leader.

All of this is complex (an understatement to be sure) and yet, our lives, our work, our organizations, our societies, our environment, and our world continue to become more and more complex and to do so at a faster and faster rate.  Interdependence (I-You-We) is crucial and servant-leadership offers one way of moving toward interdependence in ways that are, I believe, inherently moral, ethical and ‘healthy’ (PIES, again).

Within the concept of Servant-Leadership, we are challenged to move from metaphors that are personal (the charismatic leader) to a metaphor that incorporates ‘I-You-We’ – a Community metaphor. We are also challenged to move from our current cultural metaphors of ‘banking, war-sports, mechanical’ to metaphors that are ‘organic’ (i.e. that are truly developmental in nature).  For example, not only must we move toward integrating a Community metaphor, we must move toward being ‘communities of responsibility.’  The organizational and societal challenges we face require people to become more and more connected, require people to become more and more interdependent, and require people to develop powerful learning-working relationships.  Greater complexity engenders greater threats and so communities provide those within the community a safe-haven to search, to learn, and to develop.  This safe-haven also provides respite from the raging whitewaters of change that continue to wash over us tsunami-like and that continue to drown us with their tsunami-like intensity.

Given all of this, consider that servant-leaders are committed to capacity-development – in themselves and in others. Here are a few of the capacities I believe they need to develop:

  • capacity to be present
  • capacity to be attentive
  • capacity to help make meaning (e.g., the work one does must, in its self be meaningful)
  • capacity for healthy development (PIES)
  • capacity for being trustworthy and for helping to build trust
  • capacity for integrity
  • capacity for polarities and paradoxes (to understand and to embrace)
  • capacity for dilemmas – right vs. right & harm vs. harm dilemmas (to understand, to dissolve, to accept, to embrace, to choose)
  • capacity to live within both faithfulness and effectiveness
  • capacity for commitment
  • capacity for high achievement (more than competition)
  • capacity for metaphor – understanding and development (Personal-Relational-Organizational-Societal-Global) levels
  • capacity to be a continual learner (searcher, seeker, beginner)



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Gentle reader, please refer to yesterday’s posting in order to see the introduction to these two entries.  Here are the remaining Fundamental Questions of Existence to ponder.

Why are we here?  This is a question of purpose.  This question can be engaged at three levels: the Personal, the Relational, the Communal.  So, ‘I’ need to engage the question for ‘me.’ Why am I here? What is my purpose – perhaps my noble purpose?  Why do I get up on Monday mornings?  What is my call [i.e. what are my gifts and talents and what is a need in my world that requires them?]  What makes me ‘unique’ – no one else will ever be this ‘unique’ and so what is my ‘obligation’ when it comes to bringing my uniqueness to the world?  What is the purpose of our relationship?  What are we called to, together?  If our relationship did not exist would we need to create it?  As a community (school, organization, church, social agency, government, society, world. . .) what is our purpose; why do we exist?  What are we called to?  Ah, there are so many questions we could emerge and engage.

What ultimately matters?  This is a question of meaning.  As humans we are, by nature, ‘meaning-makers.’  Is my life in and of its self meaningful?  Is the work I do in and of its self meaningful? How do we make meaning together?  There are levels of meaning here also: the religious level, the philosophical level, the ‘concrete’ level (sweeping the floor, changing a diaper, sitting with the sick, visiting the ‘walled-in,’ etc).  Does it matter that we consume without replenishing?  How can we begin to discern ‘what ultimately matters’?

 How are we to live?  This is a question of morality and right action.  What are our duties and obligations?  What ‘credo’ or ‘credos’ do we choose to follow?  Why?  Do we choose to live with integrity or do we choose to betray our integrity?  Do we choose to live rooted in surety or rooted in doubt – can we choose both at the same time?  Who defines ‘right and wrong?’  Can we legislate morality? What are the values, guiding principles, beliefs, etc that we choose to follow?  When is caring for another potentially immoral?  Who determines what is moral?  Is all morality ‘relative’? 

 What happens when we die?  This is a question of ‘finality’ AND ‘continuity.’  What is the legacy I-you-we want to leave?  What is the story that will be told after we die?  What is the story we want others to tell?  How ‘final’ is death – or is death the ‘beginning’?  ‘Faith-based’ questions are important and they are not the only questions that we can (or is it ‘need’ or is it ‘must’) embrace and address.

I could go on and on with each of these Fundamental Questions; so I will stop at this point.  I do invite you, gentle reader, to emerge more questions for one of more of the Fundamental Questions of Existence that I offer you in these two entries. I also invite you to choose some questions and then spend time with others and enter into a searching conversation with them in response to those questions.      

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This morning I was paging through my little black book – yes, it is little and it is black.  During the past thirteen years or so I have filled a number of these with brief quotes, noodles, and reflections.  Early on in my perusing I came upon the following: The Fundamental Questions of Existence.  If you, gentle reader, have been following my blog entries these past months you have read some entries that focused on what I call Essential Life Questions; what follows is a focus upon just four of these – the one’s that I continue to believe are ‘fundamental questions of existence.’  [NOTE: this entry ended up being longer than I had intended so I have divided it into two parts, PART II will follow tomorrow]

Who are we?  This is a question of identity.  This contains questions of the past – What are the choices I have made that have significantly contributed to me being the person I am today?  I make choices when I am awake, aware and intentional and purposeful – when I am response-able; I also make choices when I am asleep, when I am not aware and when I am not being intentional an purposeful – when I am react-full.  This also contains questions of the present – What are the choices I am making today (say, going back six to twelve months) that directly impact me and others?  Which are the ones that might well indirectly impact me and others?  What are the intended consequences of my choices – upon me and upon others?  What might some of the unintended consequences be – upon me and upon others?  This also contains questions of the future – Who am I choosing to become?  Why am I choosing this becoming?  If I continue choosing who I am what might I be like in three or five years? 

Where did we come from?  This is a question of origin.  This question can be responded to at a number of levels: the literal level, the metaphorical level, the philosophical level, the religious level, the ancestry level, and the cosmic level.  I remember when my son, Nathan, was about six years old he came to me and asked me where he came from.  I began to stumble along about how life comes about.  He looked at me not quite following me.  Then he interrupted me and said, ‘Dad, you don’t get understand.  I looked at the tag on Nick’s shirt and it said that he was made in Japan.  So where was I made?’  OK – never let facts get in the place of a good story.  Although, at surface, this question seems quite ‘simple’ it is anything but and our responses are full of implications for ourselves and for how we view human development.

Where are we going?  This is a destiny question.  This question can also be responded to at a number of levels – the same levels I mentioned above.  A difference for me, however, is that I believe I must look at each level if I am going to emerge a rather ‘full’ response.  So, literally, if I continue to follow the path I am on where will I end up (well, death for sure, but what will the way-stations be along the way).  If ‘we’ continue along the paths we are following where will ‘we’ end up – will we destroy ourselves or will we continue to evolve and if we continue to evolve what form(s) will that take?  At the metaphorical level if we continue to be ‘consumers’ rather than ‘replenishers’ of our world where we end up will be the ‘wasteland’ that T.S. Eliot describes.  The metaphors we choose will determine the path we choose.  We can spend significant time with each level; if we so choose.

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The great Roman Emperor, Marcus Aurelius, kept a journal for more than ten years; he did not intend his entries to be read by anyone other than himself.  Yet, as the fates would have it, after his death they were published and for centuries many folks have been deeply influenced by his Meditations.  Here is another entry from Marcus (remember, he is writing this to himself, not to anyone else).

Keep constantly in your mind how many doctors die after a lifetime of wrinkling their brows in thought over the sick; and how many astrologers die after predicting with much certainty the death of others; and how many philosophers die after exhausting their minds with countless discourses concerning death and immortality; and how many great military men die after killing so many people; and how many tyrants die after exercising their power over the lives of others with an insolent snort, as if they themselves were immortal.  And how many entire cities. . .have been destroyed.  So always keep in mind how short-lived and insignificant human things really are:  yesterday a glob of mucous, tomorrow a corpse or a pile of ashes.  So pass this brief amount of time in accordance with Nature and dissolve graciously, just as a ripe olive falls to the ground praising both the earth which gave it life and the tree which nourished it.  [‘Meditations,’ 4.48]

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Three years ago I wrote the following in my journal – a bit random, but as I sit with these words today they continue to provide me ‘food for thought.’  Perhaps, dear reader, some of the following will also provide you with good food for thought.

 Once again, I have come to a crucial insight: as a servant-first leader I have the capacity to add to my relationships in nurturing and in depleting ways; I can help heal and I can help wound.  I have the capacity to help emerge the light, the good that resides within me; I also have the capacity to help emerge the darkness, the evil that also resides within me.  What I choose to enact affects me and you, directly and indirectly.  What we choose to enact together affects us and others, directly and indirectly.  Consequently, I-You-We are not only called to choose but we are called to choose wisely.   

 Here is another insight: If only there were evil people somewhere committing evil deeds and it were necessary only to separate them from the rest of us and destroy them and then all would be well; ‘unfortunately,’ [or is it ‘fortunately’?] the line dividing good and evil cuts through the heart of every human being.  And so the question that comes to my mind is: Am I, are you, are we willing to destroy a piece of our own heart?

I have, these past weeks, been holding and reflecting upon the following:

 Faith which is rooted in surety and does not doubt is as good as dead. 

 Sometimes I am accused of contradicting myself; however, in order to never outwardly contradict myself I must remain silent.  I am also thinking of Robert K. Greenleaf’s great question: When I speak, how will that improve on the silence? 

I have learned that some people will believe most anything if I speak with conviction or if I pull them aside and in confidence whisper it to them.

 Aristotle says that we become our habits – this I believe.  I also believe that the more I act out of habit the more I cease to be fully human.

I have been privileged these past decades to know a few scientists.  One of the things they have all taught me is that ‘true’ science teaches, above all, to doubt, to be ignorant, to be awake and aware and to be purposeful and intentional as you search.  The ‘search’ implies that there is no ‘final find.’  Conclusion: True science teaches, above all, to doubt and to be ignorant.

Many times, what I believe to be the motives of my conduct are usually but the pretexts for it; my true motives frequently lie deep within me.

Your ‘truth’ and your ‘perceptions’ are as true for you as mine are for me; unfortunately, too often I find myself forgetting this; unhelpful judgments on my part quickly follow.

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