Archive for January, 2015

This morning, gentle reader, we will continue our brief exploration of five attributes of a Leader. Being Vulnerable/Vulnerability is the second attribute. This attribute, I continue to believe, closely follows ‘Integrity’ as being absolutely crucial for the Leader (and perhaps for each of us). This attribute is multi-dimensional; a Leader might possess and enact one, two, three or all four (although, ‘Being Transparent’ and ‘Being a Risk-Taker’ are closely linked). So, gentle reader, I invite us to consider:

VULNERABILITY – Traditionally, being vulnerable means: being transparent and taking risks (today there is a great deal written about both of these dimensions). Both of these are important; at times each is crucial. For our consideration, I add two more meanings. ‘Carrying the wound grace-fully’ and ‘Being Humble.’

The Leader’s art requires that he or she must choose when to be ‘transparent’ and then to decide how much transparency is required. The art also requires the Leader to determine which risks to take and it also involves a decision regarding who else will be invited (or coerced or manipulated or persuaded) to come along. It does appear that the more the Leader risks being transparent the more likely the other(s) will freely choose to ‘come along.’

The Leader is also charged with ‘Being Vulnerable’ – to ‘carry the wound with grace.’ The word ‘vulnerable’ has its roots in the Latin ‘vulnus’ which means ‘to carry the wound with grace.’ The Leader will be wounded – sometimes by others (either on purpose or by accident) and sometimes the wound will be self-inflicted.

The Leader does not follow ‘the eye for an eye’ path. The Leader does not ‘hold a grudge.’ The Leader does not respond motivated by ‘spite.’ The Leader seeks healing (which might well involve forgiveness and reconciliation). If you want to learn from the master, study Lincoln’s life; the book, ‘A Team of Rivals’ is a great place to begin.

A complement to ‘Being Vulnerable’ is ‘Being Humble.’ For a Leader, ‘Being Humble’ involves demonstrating a modest estimate of one’s importance. A trap for a Leader is to become seduced by his or her own importance, status or power. It seems for us humans, once we have an inflated sense of our importance, status or power we become fear-full of having it diminished and our fear-fullness often leads us to choose to seek ways to diminish the other(s) – some leaders, for example, ‘hire-down’ in order to help ensure that the other(s) do not become ‘threats.’ One of my mother’s favorite phrases was ‘Be Humble!’ – She believed that if what you did – or if who you are – is important then others will ‘sing your praises.’

‘Being Vulnerable’ requires courage (i.e. ‘heart’) and adequate self-esteem; the Leader who does not possess both will find it difficult to enact ‘Vulnerability.’

I close this morning with a quotation from the author Madeleine L’Engle: ‘When we were children, we used to think that when we were grown-up we would no longer be vulnerable. But to grow up is to accept vulnerability… To be alive is to be vulnerable.’

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Since 1973 I have had the opportunity and privilege of helping role-defined leaders develop their capacity to lead. One question that continues to surface is: ‘What are the attributes of a Leader?’ Since the 1950s the literature focusing on ‘The Leader’ continues to respond to this question. I cannot remember when I first developed my list of the ‘Attributes of a Leader;’ what I am aware of is that the first five attributes on my list have held firm for years.

Beginning today, I will share with you, gentle reader the first five attributes on my list; they continue to reflect my current thinking. The list ‘comes to life’ when the attributes are interpreted, practiced and integrated so they become ‘habits of the head, heart and hands.’ They are never fully developed and thus ‘capacity development’ becomes a never-ending story. With this list I provide the ‘What’ (the attributes) and I invite you, gentle reader, to provide the ‘How’ and the ‘Why’? It is also important to note that the following list is rooted in Robert K. Greenleaf’s concept of the ‘Servant-First’ as Leader (a different concept of Leader might well lead to the emergence of a different list of attributes – ‘Leader as controlling tyrant’ for example will probably emerge a different list of attributes). Today we will briefly explore the attribute that I continue to believe is the major tap root, the attribute that nurtures and sustains all of the other attributes. Although our topic is ‘Attributes of a Leader’ you will notice, gentle reader, that each of these might also serve most of us well.

INTEGRITY – Consider that Integrity is an adherence to moral and ethical principles; soundness of moral character; the state of being whole. Of the attributes it is, as I noted above, the major taproot that nurtures and sustains the person and the other attributes. Consider that at our healthiest we are both living paradoxes and imperfect beings and therefore there will always exist a gap between the Integrity we espouse and the Integrity we enact. Our charge and challenge is to develop our capacity for Integrity so that we continue to close the gap between what we espouse and what we enact. In seeking to ‘close the gap’ we then seek to become ‘whole’ (I invite you to spend time with Parker J. Palmer’s book ‘A Hidden Wholeness’ in order to more fully understand what I am referring to); ‘being whole’ means that I seek to be consistent when it comes to aligning my thoughts-words-actions in ways that demonstrate that I possess ‘soundness of moral character.’

Consider that a trap for the Leader is set when he or she embraces the notion of ‘walking the talk.’ This simple three word phrase sets the Leader up for failure for no one is perfect and so it is impossible to ‘walk the talk.’ The Leader who ‘fails’ to do so is then cynically criticized by certain followers; at minimum some will question the Leader’s ‘Integrity’. Actually, it is more helpful for the Leader to ‘stumble the mumble.’ The Leader will at times, stumble, and at other times the Leader will not always have ‘clarity of voice’ – he or she will be seeking a ‘voice’ or will be experimenting with a ‘voice.’

There is another trap for the Leader; it is the trap of ‘honesty’ or ‘truth-telling.’ The trap is set when one equates ‘honesty’ or ‘truth-telling’ with Integrity. They are not the same. Consider, for example, that one can lie with Integrity – think of the Dutch families during WWII who hid Jewish families from the Nazis.
I leave us with the following quote from the great Nigerian author and poet, Chinua Achebe: One of the truest tests of integrity is its blunt refusal to be compromised.

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Viktor Frankl stepped from the train. He noticed that almost everyone was turning and walking to their left. He began to turn. A German Officer stepped in front of him. He gazed into his eyes, put his hands on Viktor’s shoulders; he then turned Viktor to the right and thus began Viktor’s journey into the darkness that was Auschwitz. Prior to arriving at the dormitory he was searched. All of his valuables were taken from him. He also carried with him his notebook which contained a manuscript. He tried to explain its importance to the soldiers; they ignored his pleas and the notebook was taken away. Viktor sought support by trying to explain to a fellow prisoner his plight. The prisoner sneered out a grin and said, ‘Shit!’ “At that moment I saw the plain truth and did what marked the culminating point of the first phase of my psychological reaction: I struck out my whole former life.”

How can he face his new ‘life’? This question was answered when Viktor was given a coat that a recently deceased man had worn. In the coat’s pocket Viktor found a small scrap of paper; it had been torn from a Hebrew prayer book. Still legible was the prayer ‘Shema Yisrael’: ‘Love thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy might.’ To Viktor it became “the command to say yes to life despite whatever one has to face, be it suffering or even dying.”

This single scrap of paper became more valuable than his lost manuscript. The prayer became a “symbolic call” to live the philosophy that he wrote about. He now had the opportunity to test in the living-hell called Auschwitz what he had proclaimed in writing. As he continued to empty himself he realized that he had “nothing to lose except his so ridiculously naked life.”

Viktor Frankl survived and emerged in 1945 from his living-hell. He re-entered the other world with a knowledge born of first-hand experience that we human beings have, in any and all situations, a choice over our actions. We are, if we so choose, able to preserve, even in the wasteland of life, a slice of spiritual freedom, a fragment of freedom. We humans can choose to embrace the most fundamental human freedom: the freedom to choose an attitude or way of responding to our ‘fate.’ We have the freedom to choose our own way.

Viktor believed that this piece of spiritual freedom cannot be taken from us; it gives our life meaning and purpose – without it, he discovered, there is no reason for surviving. When he wrote of his journey he quoted Nietzsche: ‘He who has a why to live can bear with almost any how.’

Consider, gentle reader, that Viktor Frankl was correct: What matters in human existence is not so much the fate that awaits us but the way in which we accept that fate. “To be alive is to suffer,” he wrote, and “to find some meaning in one’s suffering is to survive.” It is up to each of us to find what Viktor Frankl called the “will to meaning.”

In 1964 Viktor Frankl’s story helped me find meaning in my own inner wasteland – amidst my own dark night of the soul. Since then Viktor continues to travel with me and when needed he reminds me that I do, indeed, have the freedom to choose to say ‘yes’ to life no matter what.

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A few days ago we had some nasty weather – rain, sleet, ice-rain – and so I decided not to go out. I spent some time exploring my book shelves in order to discern which books were calling to me. I kept returning to one book shelf; there was a book calling to me but I was not able to clearly identify its voice. I had gathered up a stack of books and so I took these to my chair and added them to the ten books that already had a permanent home nearby. As I began to settle in I decided to return to the book shelf that I was still drawn to. As I looked more closely at each shelf I noticed a small book that was wedged between two larger volumes; I could barely see it. I reached for it and pulled out Viktor Frankl’s ‘Man’s Search for Meaning.’ I have had this particular book for fifty-one years; it is well read and well worn. I cannot begin to put into words the impact that Frankl’s story has had on my life. It was about this time of the year in 1964; I was searching for meaning in my life and my therapist gifted me with this little book.

As I sat once again with Frankl’s words I decided to share some of his story with you, gentle reader. You might be familiar with his story, I have found that many folks have some sense of his story.

When he was thirty-seven years old, Viktor Frankl embarked upon a three year odyssey. Unlike Odysseus, Frankl’s odyssey took him into a living nightmare-world full of human cruelty, torture, starvation and privation; with death came relief. His journey began with a train ride. He was one of eighty crammed into a coach car; this car was one of many traveling from Vienna, Austria northeast and it was noted that more than 1500 folks were ‘passengers’ on this train. The train traveled at high speed for several days. Then early one morning, as the sun began to emerge over the horizon, the train slowed. They were approaching a station. As the train slowly came to a stop next to a platform the passengers in the coach saw a sign announcing their destination: ‘Auschwitz.’

Frankl recalled seeing rows and rows of gallows with corpses hanging from them, he noted: “I was horrified, but this was just as well, because step by step, we had to become accustomed to a terrible and immense horror.”

Frankl was thirty-seven and the year was 1942. The killing ground he entered was one of many that murdered more than six million of his fellow Jews. He would be one of the few – and I mean ‘few’ – who would survive. His body, mind and spirit suffered in ways that words cannot fully capture. He and his sister were the only members of his nuclear and extended family that survived the holocaust.

Viktor Frankl survived and he did more than that. He endured his ordeal and was also strengthened by a belief in our human capacity to search for and find meaning and purpose in life in spite of the greatest suffering. How could he, residing in this living nightmare, find a life worth preserving?

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‘NEEDS’. . .

I cannot remember when I first began to focus on the important difference between a ‘Need’ and a ‘Want’ – it seems like decades. What I have learned is that no matter how powerful the ‘want’ it will almost always be compromised when faced with a ‘need.’ The following definitions might help us see why this tends to be so.

NEED = something deemed necessary; something requisite

WANT = to wish, to crave, to demand, to desire

At times folks – myself included – have equated ‘want’ with ‘need.’ I have found that my two definitions help me discern which is truly in play in a given situation.

More recently I have been considering ‘Needs.’ My current thinking is that we have adulterated, and continue to adulterate, the concept, ‘Needs.’ One way we do this is to use my definition of ‘want’ to define ‘need.’ When we do this we treat our ‘needs’ as holy, for some, ‘needs’ become their gods, their idols. We spare no effort, no toil, in order to satisfy them. We end up worshiping not just one but a whole Mount Olympus full of ‘wants’ reframed as ‘needs.’ For some, their espoused moral and spiritual norms are actually personal ‘wishes,’ ‘cravings,’ ‘demands’ and/or ‘desires’ in disguise. We treat them as ‘something requisite’ when they are anything but.

Consider, gentle reader, that ‘need’ denotes the absence or shortage of something indispensable to the well-being a person, a relationship or a community. Given this, the term ‘need’ is used in two ways (perhaps there are more than two, as of today I am aware of these two): one focuses on the actual lack; a lack that is ‘indispensable.’ The other focuses on the ‘awareness’ of such a lack. My current thinking about ‘Needs’ focuses on the second way.

Each of us human beings nurtures a diverse garden of needs; each human garden is composed of different needs – no two gardens are the same. There might well be a minimum number of human being needs; there appears to be no maximum number for any one of us. Some of our needs are inherent in our being human; others, for example, emerge in response to our environment, to our socialization, to our time in history, and to a specific community in which we are a member. Some are induced by envy, or jealousy, or covetousness. Some are adulterations of ‘wishing,’ or ‘craving,’ or ‘demanding,’ or ‘desiring’ – we call these adulterations needs and we act as if they are needs. We can become so good at this adulteration that we become unable to discern the difference between a ‘need’ and a ‘want’ (as I have defined them earlier). It is easy for a ‘want’ to become a ‘must-abation’ and as we know, some of us by direct experience, ‘must-abation’ leads to blindness – we cannot ‘see’ the real ‘need.’

Consider, gentler reader, that more of us die as a result of pursuing our adulterated ‘needs’ than we do as a result of disease. What also seems to be true is that too often our pursuit of adulterated needs turns into aggression and is a major tap root of war (history continues to confirm this). Given all of this it seems to me that there is a benefit in understanding the difference between ‘Needs’ and ‘Wants’ and then to focus more on addressing ‘Needs.’ Pardon me, I must stop here as I need to go to the store for I have a need for some ice cream.

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