Archive for January, 2015

Almost every day each of us encounters an opportunity to lead. For example, at work one might sit in a meeting and watch folks avoid the undiscussables (the ‘elephant’ in the room) and then this person might embrace the opportunity to lead and name the undiscussables and invite the others to engage them; more often, however, the person chooses not to embrace the opportunity to lead and remains silent (people have a variety of justifications for choosing ‘silence’).

Each day presents us with opportunities to frame one or more ‘burning questions,’ or invite folks to live into and out of ‘higher’ values or virtues, or challenge folks to surface and engage unresolved conflicts. Each day we have an opportunity to make a difference by choosing to lead.

Each day one must decide whether or not to lead – to put his or her contribution ‘out there’ or keep it to one’s self. One holds back because one does not want to offend the other(s) or upset the other(s) or ‘make waves.’ On one hand, folks are right in choosing to be cautious. Prudence is, after all, a virtue. If we have paid any attention at all we know that folks are disturbed when one offers unpopular initiatives or suggests provocative new ideas or names the ‘elephant in the room.’ People can become quite irate when one questions the gap between their values and their actions (‘irate’ might be too soft – ‘rage-full’ might fit as well). Folks don’t like it when another invites them to name and face tough realities; such awareness does not bring folks comfort or solace.

When one chooses to lead one chooses to risk the ire of the other(s); one chooses to become vulnerable. Being vulnerable means that one is willing to take the risk and lead; it means that one is willing to be transparent – i.e. to be an imperfect human being who will more often stumble the mumble rather than walk the talk. Being vulnerable also means that as a leader you will be wounded (on purpose or by accident) and thus you will be challenged to ‘carry the wound with grace’ (vulnerable is rooted in the Latin word ‘vulnus’ which means ‘to carry the wound with grace’); you will not seek revenge, you will not return ‘wound for wound.’

Simply put: One can get into a great deal of bother when one chooses to lead.

A quotation from Ron Heifetz sums it up quite well: “the word “lead” has an Indo-European root that means “to go forth, die.”

Read Full Post »


Each day we humans encounter and are challenged by one or more of the following: Problems, Polarities, Paradoxes and Dilemmas. One of our tendencies is put the label ‘Problem’ on encounters and challenges that are Polarities, Paradoxes or Dilemmas; this tendency causes us no end of consternation, confusion, chaos and conflict. Recently I was re-reading passages from Aristotle and Emerson – in these passages both were addressing Polarities. So I woke this morning thinking about Polarities and decided to write a bit about them.

The world is awash with polarities. We humans are living polarities. It is polarities all the way up and all the way down – all the way in and all the way out. Here are some common ones: Day-Night, Good-Evil, Bravery-Cowardice, Hard-Soft, Short Term-Long Term, Individual-Community, High-Low, Broad-Narrow, Virtue-Vice, Nurture-Deplete, Health-Disease, Justice-Mercy, War-Peace, Young-Old. This short list will suffice for our purposes today.

A polarity is not an ‘either-or’ concept nor is it forced-choice. It is a ‘both-and’ with an added dimension – the ‘Golden Mean.’ The concept of the Golden Mean exists in all wisdom traditions and in many theological traditions. Aristotle, Socrates, Plato, Confucius, and Buddha described it. Taoism, Christianity, Islam, and Judaism embrace the concept.

So what is it that is referred to when one speaks of the Golden Mean? First, it is NOT THE MIDDLE. This is crucial to remember. Second, either extreme – one end of the polarity – does not exist without the other. For example, ‘Day’ needs ‘Night’ in order to exist.

Aristotle says that there exists in each of us the polarity of ‘Courage-Cowardice.’ Either excess would be harm-full to the person. The Golden Mean for each person will probably be different. For example, my oldest brother’s Golden Mean is closer to ‘Courage’ and my Golden Mean is closer to ‘Cowardice.’ Aristotle tells us that ‘Courage’ taken to an excess leads to ‘recklessness.’ My oldest brother tells stories about his acting recklessly. I have driven recklessly – courage run amok.

The Golden Mean is not permanent. With age and wisdom one might well choose a different Golden Mean. In early adulthood one’s Golden Mean might favor ‘Justice’ over ‘Mercy’ and in later life one might choose a Golden Mean that favors ‘Mercy’ more than ‘Justice.’

As a Leader in an organization I might, at a given time, favor the ‘Individual’s Rights’ more than the ‘Community’s Rights.’ I might be influenced more by ‘Mercy’ than by ‘Justice’ (or vice versa). I might be drawn more to the ‘Long-Term’ than the ‘Short-Term’ (and leave it to the Managers and Administrators to focus more on the ‘Short-Term’).

The Oracle at Delphi admonished: ‘Nothing in Excess.’ Socrates teaches that a man “must know how to choose the mean and avoid the extremes on either side, as far as possible.” Gautama Buddha taught of the Middle Way, a path between the extremes of religious asceticism and worldly self-indulgence. The great Christian apologist, Thomas Aquinas noted that “evil consists in discordance from their rule or measure. Now this may happen either by their exceeding the measure or by their falling short of it; therefore it is evident that moral virtue observes the mean.” The great Jewish mystic Maimonides stated that the right way is the mean in each group of dispositions common to humanity. The great Muslim mystic Al-Ghazali noted that what is wanted is a ‘balance between’ – through moderation.

Read Full Post »

This morning gentle reader we will briefly explore the fifth of five ‘Attributes of a Leader.’ As a reminder, we have briefly explored the following attributes: Integrity, Vulnerability, Discernment and Awareness. This fifth attribute is, in many ways, the most challenging for the leader to live into and out of.

COURAGE [IN RELATIONSHIPS] – Courage is rooted in the Old French ‘cuer’ – ‘heart.’ The Leader seeks to have the Courage and act with Integrity at all times. The Leader seeks to have the Courage to be Vulnerable – to be transparent, to take risks, and to ‘carry the wound with grace. The Leader seeks the Courage to develop and enact Discernment. The Leader seeks the Courage to embrace ‘Awareness’ – to be awake and aware and intentional and purpose-full; to be willing to be disturbed by what ‘being aware’ reveals. It takes Courage (i.e. heart) for the Leader to embrace and live into and out of the other four attributes; these are not embraced simply because the Leader is a good person and is well-intentioned.

The Leader has the Courage to trust the other(s). The Leader also has the courage to be a trust-builder and trust-sustainer for the Leader understands that Leadership is rooted in the trusting relationship that needs to exist between the Leader and the Led. The Leader also has the Courage to help others become, or remain, trust-builders. The Leader also has the Courage to seek to re-build trust after it has been broken – or betrayed. Trust re-building’ involves forgiveness, reconciliation and healing and it takes Courage to embrace this process and the people involved.

The Leader also has the courage to invite and honor all voices; especially the voices of the cynical, the skeptical, the critic and the dissenter – to invite the ‘voices’ that he or she seeks to avoid or the voices that stimulate the greatest anxiety. The Leader demonstrates the Courage to be open to being influenced by all voices – this is no small challenge even for the most courageous Leader. The Leader seeks to find the Courage that resides behind his or her fear(s).

The Leader has the Courage to ‘name’ the undiscussables and then to engage the undiscussables with diverse voices. The Leader has the Courage to create space for the other(s) to ‘name’ the undiscussables and then, together, engage them. The Leader has the Courage to embrace ‘styles’ that are different from his or hers: thinking styles, communication styles, decision-making styles, conflict resolution styles (to name a few of the styles). The Leader has the courage to seek out the ‘Why’ – as in, ‘Why are we getting the results we are getting?’ The Leader has the courage to name and enter into the agreements with the Led; these agreements are both necessary and beneficial; they require that all provide mutual support and accountability.

The Leader has the Courage to say: “I apologize; I was wrong – forgive me.’ The Leader has the Courage to Care and to seek to serve the highest priority needs of the other(s). Finally, for this brief exploration, the Leader has the Courage to say, ‘Thank You!’ – two words that the Led might not hear often enough.

I end our brief exploration of ‘Courage’ with two quotations.

We must build dikes of courage to hold back the flood of fear. –John F. Kennedy

Courage is what it takes to stand up and speak; courage is also what it takes to sit down and listen. –Winston Churchill

Read Full Post »

Thus far, gentle reader, we have briefly explored three of the five ‘Attributes of a Leader’ I find to be most significant (based upon my theory of leadership, and upon my understanding and experience of role-defined Leaders these past 44+ years). Based upon your theory of leadership and your experience and understanding you might well emerge a list that is similar, complementary, or significantly different from mine.

AWARENESS – An ‘effective’ Leader will choose to be awake and aware and intentional and purpose-full. This ‘Being Aware’ helps the Leader understand and honor the Past, embrace and live in the Present, and image and co-create the Future. Among many things, the Leader seeks to become aware of and to understand the cares, yearnings, and struggles of the Led. If the Leader views the organization as ‘organic’ – that is, it is individuals and relationships writ large – then it makes sense that ‘people precede profession.’ Consider that people who believe they are understood and cared for give an energy to the endeavor that money cannot purchase – I call this energy: discretionary energy. As Robert K. Greenleaf noted in his seminal essay, ‘The Servant as Leader,’ awareness does not bring comfort and solace; it more often brings disturbance – the Leader who is aware is often disturbed by what he or she ‘sees.’

Each Leader (actually, each of us human beings) has his or her favorite ways of ‘being asleep’ – of choosing not to be aware. I invite you, gentle reader, to pause for a few minutes and raise to a conscious level – to become aware of – your favorite ways. For some it is ‘noise.’ These folks surround themselves with noise and also nurture the noise that resides within. For some it is ‘busyness.’ These folks become so busy that they do not have time to be awake and aware. Some folks spend a great deal of time ruminating about the Past. These folks relive the Past or continue to feel ‘bad’ about past decisions. Some folks spend a great deal of time anticipating the future. These folks, for example, are always looking ahead to the next week, quarter or fiscal year. For some it is ‘distraction.’ Some seek visual distractions, some auditory, some physical, and some seek emotional distractions. Of course, the ‘power’ of these ways is that they work and they are probably rooted in habit. They might be adulterations of ways of being that at one time served the person well – more positively than negatively – hence their importance to the person.

No one can wake us up. We, each of us, have to choose to wake up; this is no small challenge for us ‘sleep-walkers.’ We can be stunned into awareness. For many of us, however, it seems that given enough time we will choose to revert to ‘old habits.’ For some, being asleep is more like an addiction than a habit. I know, for example, some folks who have become addicted to their smart phones and are not able to be awake and aware in the ‘now’ for even a brief period of time. These folks are not able to be ‘without’ their smart phone; they become highly anxious if their phone is not with them at all times.

Choosing to be awake and aware is a greater challenge than ever and it is more crucial than ever that the Leader today choose to develop the discipline called ‘Awareness.’

This morning I leave us with the words of that wonderful spiritual director, Anthony DeMello (check out his book: ‘Awareness’) “These things will destroy the human race: politics without principle, progress without compassion, wealth without work, learning without silence, religion without fearlessness, and life without awareness.”

Read Full Post »

This morning, gentle reader, we will continue our brief exploration of what are my five most important ‘Attributes of a Leader.’ Given your philosophy of leading, your list might include different attributes. So, I invite you to consider mine and if you so choose to send me yours. Thus far we have briefly explored ‘Integrity’ and ‘Being Vulnerable/Vulnerability.’

DISCERNMENT – Consider that Discernment is the faculty that enables us to perceive and understand that which is not immediately or readily available. The role-defined Leader is charged with being awake and aware to discerning ‘nuance’ and ‘changing realities.’ Discernment is interesting as it is a ‘both-and’: It is a ‘gift’ and it is an ‘ability.’ Both can lie dormant for years. Both can be developed and enhanced. The Leader’s capacity for discernment can be developed and like all capacities if it is not used on a regular basis it will atrophy.

Consider, if you will, that the Leader whose thinking is more ‘concrete’ than ‘abstract,’ who is challenged to ‘see the gray/grey areas’ and who believes that ‘hard’ always trumps ‘soft’ might well not list ‘Discernment’ as a necessary attribute. A major reason for this is that this Leader seems to believe that ‘nuance’ itself is not important. For the Leader who is rooted in the ‘concrete,’ being open to ‘nuance’ also opens the doors of ‘abstraction,’ ‘ambiguity,’ ‘complexity,’ and ‘doubt.’ These tend to generate moderate to high anxiety within this Leader and thus the anxious Leader rooted in the ‘concrete’ tends to lean more toward ‘reaction’ than ‘response.’ ‘Reaction’ for this Leader is a sign that he or she is not in ‘control’ and not being in control is abhorrent to him/her. One result then, is that this Leader often finds it a stretch, if not an outright challenge, to seek out and embrace abstraction, ambiguity, complexity and doubt.

The effective role-defined Leaders I have known who are rooted in the ‘concrete’ developed into being effective Leaders because they came to appreciate the value of and the need for ‘Discernment.’ They did not develop this ‘gift’ or ‘ability’ – they made sure that folks who had developed this attribute were his/her ‘thought-partners.’ As I sit here this morning, I can recall two leaders who were rooted in the ‘concrete’ and who spent a great deal of time and energy nurturing the discernment that resided dormant within themselves. When I met them they had already developed their capacity for discernment. They remained rooted in the concrete AND they had discerned the value of discernment for themselves.

I conclude this morning with a quote from Pope Francis (the current Pope): My choices, including those related to the day-to-day aspects of life, like the use of a modest car, are related to a spiritual discernment that responds to a need that arises from looking at things, at people and from reading the signs of the times. Discernment guides me in my way of governing.

Read Full Post »

Older Posts »