Archive for October, 2021

Leadership is a serious meddling in other people’s lives. –Max De Pree

Decades ago as I was thinking deeply about what it means for me to take on the role of being a depth-educator and the role of being a thought-partner I strove to remember Max De Pree’s observation about ‘Leadership.’  I adopted the following as both guides and reminders: Finding Your Voice and Living Your Story.  Max’s reminder and my two guides have continued to serve me well during these many years as I have striven to help designated leaders find their voice and live their story as they meddle in the lives of others.

This morning, Gentle Reader, I invite you to join me as I briefly explore ‘Voice,’ ‘Story’ & ‘Metaphor’ not as they apply to the ‘Leader’ but as they apply to each of us.

VOICE.  ‘Voice’ involves a process of seeking first to examine and understand who I am and who I am choosing to become and why I am choosing this becoming.  Thousands of years ago the Oracle directed each of us with ‘Know Thyself.’  A few centuries later a guy named Socrates noted that ‘the unexamined life is not worth living.’  Then, a few thousand years after that another guy, named Robert K. Greeneaf, upped the ante when he offered us this: ‘To refuse to examine the assumptions one lives by is immoral.’

In order to ‘Bring My Voice’ I must seek to understand myself.  Here are a few guiding questions that I continue to hold:

  • What are the core values, the core guiding principles, the core assumptions, the core prejudices, the core beliefs and the core stereotypes that I have integrated and that I express via my ‘Voice’ (verbally and through my choices-behavior)? [By the by, ‘Core’ means: that to the best of my ability I will never compromise my value, guiding principle, etc.]
  • Do these get me what I want?  What do I want? (I begin by responding to the second question first).
  • What is the impact of my ‘Voice’ upon the other(s) and upon myself?  What are the consequences – intended and unintended?
  • What do I ‘espouse’ as important or crucial AND what do I actually ‘live’?  What are the ‘gaps’ between the two and what do I do to help close those ‘gaps’?

STORY.  Each of us has integrated a life-metaphor.  We live as if this metaphor is ‘real’ rather than as something we have integrated and can change if we have a need to do so.  ‘Story’ is one life-metaphor: ‘My life is a story that I write and live.’  There is a paradox here: I am BOTH the author and the subject; I write the story AND I live the story.  Here are a few other ‘life-metaphors’ that others have identified as having integrated:

  • Life is a Struggle to be engaged.
  • Life is a War to be waged.
  • Life is a Journey to be taken.
  • Life is a Play to be lived.
  • Life is a Game to be played.
  • Life is a Mystery to be solved.
  • Life is a Garden to be tended.  [My thanks to the great Spanish poet Antonio Machado for this metaphor.]

It is crucial to understand that the metaphors we use will determine the paths we choose.  Conflicts with others occur when there is a conflict of metaphors.  Organizations also integrate and live into and out of a metaphor as does our National Culture (Organizations and Nations are individuals and relationships writ large – hence they are, indeed, living organisms).  For example with the advent of the Industrial Age (1900) our Nation and many of our organizations embraced and integrated an inorganic, mechanical metaphor: People are cogs in the great machine.  After World War II our Nation and many of our organizations embraced and integrated an inorganic, banking metaphor: People are assets, commodities and resources.  We also have combined two metaphors: War and Sports into a War-Sports metaphor.

Our Voice is modulated by our Life-Metaphor and our Life-Metaphor frames and directly influences the Life-Story that we write and live into.  I invite you, Gentle Reader, to spend some time discerning, naming and ‘owning’ your Life-Metaphor and then I invite you to seek to discern how your life-metaphor impacts your Voice and your Life-Story.  Remember: YOU are the AUTHOR and the PROTAGONIST of your LIFE-STORY. 

Your life is your message. –Gandhi  

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My life is my message. –Gandhi

Good morning Gentle Reader.  We continue this morning with another question: As a Parent, Teacher, or Leader when do I want the child, student, or follower to

  • Comply
  • Adapt
  • Buy-In
  • Emotionally Own?

I have found that it is crucial for me, in my role, to know which of these I seek from the other and why I seek it at this particular time.  AND, what are the ingredients that must be in place in order for each to be successfully enacted/embraced? 

Here is another question to ponder: What are the intended AND unintended outcomes/consequences of each being enacted/embraced?  Sometimes, but not often enough, the Parent, Teacher or Leader will name the intended outcomes/consequences; seldom do they seek to uncover and name the unintended outcomes/consequences.

As a Parent, Teacher or Leader here is another question to hold and ponder: When – AND why – do you want to

  • Be Effective
  • Be Efficient
  • Be Faithful [One can, as we know, ‘Be Faithful’ and not necessarily ‘Be Effective’ nor ‘Be Efficient’]

Here is a corollary question: When am I (the Parent, Teacher or Leader) called to ‘Be Faithful’ even if I know I will not ‘Be Effective’ nor will I ‘Be Efficient’?

Consider, Gentle Reader that it is crucial to know who I am as a Parent, Teacher or Leader.  What does this mean?  Well this ‘knowing’ can entail a great deal, for our purposes I offer the following for you to consider; I will offer you these considerations in the form of a question:

As a Parent, Teacher or Leader what are 2-3 ‘Core Values,’ ‘Core Guiding Principles’ and ‘Core Deep Assumptions’ you have integrated that impact – directly and indirectly – the way you Parent, Teach or Lead (especially when experiencing high stress or high anxiety)?  By the by: ‘Core’ means that to the best of your ability you will never compromise them; which is why they are ‘core.’  Also, a ‘value’ does not have to be a virtue, a value can be a vice (think of the person who has integrated a ‘core value’ of ‘greed’). 

By the by, we all hold many assumptions that we might easily access if we so choose to do so.  Our ‘Core Deep Assumptions’ have been integrated into our sub-conscious and are not easily uncovered; they have become part of our identity and so we are hesitant, if not resistant to uncovering them for in doing so we might (we believe) be putting our very identity at risk (and who wants to give up their identity). 

In concluding this two-part series I invite you, Gentle Reader, to consider: ‘Challenges.’  I invite you to consider four types of challenges (please keep in mind your role of Parent, Teacher or Leader):

  • What are 2-3 Challenges that ‘did not go well’?  What did you learn?
  • What are 2-3 Challenges that ‘went well’?  What did you learn?
  • What are 2-3 Challenges that you are currently embracing?  What are you learning?
  • What are 2-3 Challenges that are appearing ‘over the horizon’?  What do you have to learn or learn more fully in order to embrace these emerging challenges?

Experience plus Reflection is the learning that lasts. –Charles Handy

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Do thy own work and know yourself. –Plato

Greetings Gentle Reader.  For the past few months I have been ‘holding’ a   question: What do ‘Roles’ have in common?  [NOTE: There are questions we respond to immediately, there are questions we respond to after a short period of reflection, there are questions we ‘hold’ for some time and during this time we strive to be awake to what emerges into our consciousness and there are, as the great poet Rilke noted, questions to live so that someday we might live into to the answers.]

As I held this question a number of ‘Roles’ emerged into my consciousness.  I have decided to share what has, so far, emerged for me, some common elements of three ‘Roles’: Parent, Teacher, Leader.  As I share my current thinking I invite you, Gentle Reader, to keep these three ‘Roles’ in mind – and I also invite you to add ‘Roles’ that might emerge into your consciousness as you ponder what I will be offering you to consider. 

Here is a question to hold: How would you describe your primary ‘style’ as a parent, teacher or leader? [For example: Guide, Mentor, Dictator, Collaborator, Servant, etc.] [NOTE: We probably employ a number of ‘styles’ AND, we have one ‘style’ that is our ‘default style’ – the one we automatically go to when the pressure is intensified.] 

Here is a complementary question to hold: How would you describe your primary ‘style’ as a ‘follower’? [For example, compliant, dependent, partner, adapter, etc.] [NOTE: Again, we each have a ‘default style’ that we automatically go to when the pressure is on – so you might think about your ‘default style’.]

Before we continue it is important for you, Gentle Reader, to know that I hold the following as I consider each ‘Role’: Parenting, Teaching and Leadership is a by-product of the relationship between the Parent and the one Parented, between the Teacher and the one being Taught and between the Leader and the one being Led.  If the relationship is ‘healthy, effective, etc.’ then Parenting, Teaching, and Leading is ‘effective.’  If the relationship is dysfunctional then the result is dysfunction.  ‘BOTH’ parties are responsible and accountable (although some are more responsible and accountable).

Now, Gentle Reader, here are two more questions that I invite you to ponder and perhaps respond to after you ponder them for a while.

  • Does the way you Parent or Teach or Lead get you what you want?
  • What do you want? [NOTE: Respond to the second question first]. 

Now, as a Parent, Teacher or Leader, we have a number of ‘tools’ available to us here are four of the most common tools:

  • Coercion = having the ‘leverage’ to ‘force’ compliance
  • Manipulation = ‘seducing’ the other into thoughts or actions that they would not normally choose
  • Persuasion = using logic in order to enable the other to freely choose and buy-into
  • Influence = using inquiry, rooted in integrity, over time, in order to allow the other to emerge and emotionally own his/her own thoughts, decisions and behaviors.  The one who is influenced says: This is where I freely choose to stand! 

Each of these for the Parent, Teacher or Leader can be ‘effective’ and ‘positive’ and the first three can be ‘effective’ and ‘negative.’  ‘Influence’ is the only one that is inherently ethical and positive (some would say, ‘moral’). 

Now, Gentle Reader, one more question for today: What are the ingredients that must be in place for Coercion, Manipulation, Persuasion and Influence to be ‘effective’ and ‘positive’? [For example, as a Parent I might ‘discipline’ my four year old for disobeying me for running into the street.  By the by, ‘discipline’ is rooted in the concept of ‘learning/teaching’ and is not the same as ‘punishment’ – we all know – I believe – that punishment is used to deliver ‘pain’ not ‘learning’ and it might ensure ‘compliance’ but, again, not ‘learning’—the ‘learning’ I am referring to is the ‘learning’ that one ‘freely chooses to embrace’.] 

One more NOTE: Gentle Reader, you don’t have to accept any of the above.  I do invite you to ponder, reflect upon and pay attention to what emerges for you as you reflect and ponder what I have offered you today.    

Act as if what you do makes a difference.  It does! –William James

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Good morning Gentle Reader.  I have been ‘noodling’ a number of potential topics and thus far I have not chosen one to write enough about and so I have not posted in a few days.  I had committed to myself to post today.  So I have decided to share a few of the ‘notes’ I have written in my journal (you might remember that I carry a ‘little black book’ with me – a discipline I learned by observing my father as he made notes in the ‘little black book’ that he carried for more than 60 years.  Periodically I transfer some of my ‘notes’ from my ‘little black book’ to my rather large journal.)  I offer the following to you, Gentle Reader, with an invitation: If one or more of the ‘notes’ stimulate your thinking I invite you to spend time reflecting upon it/them and perhaps to capture your reflections in writing.


  • If I want to understand the other I must first look deeply into my own heart, mind and soul – keep in mind Socrates’ counsel: ‘The unexamined life is not worth living.’  Also keep in mind, Greenleaf’s counsel: ‘To refuse to examine the assumptions one lives by is immoral.’
  • Remember: I do not see the world as it really is for it has already been distorted by my unconscious mental models and my self-serving biases.
  • One of the truest tests of my integrity is its blatant refusal to be compromised.
  • The enema of life is hypocrisy.
  • ‘Leadership’ is a by-product of the relationship between the leader (by role or by situation) and the led.
  • INFLUENCE = the capacity to use inquiry rooted in integrity, over time, in order to allow the others to emerge and to emotionally own their own thoughts, decisions and behaviors/actions so they will choose to be unconditionally response-able, responsible and accountable.
  • CONSIDER: Celebrity, Credentials, Competence – which do I-You-We choose to follow?  Why?
  • REMEMBER the 3 ‘Cs’ that ‘Count’: Consciousness, Character, Conduct.
  • CONSIDER: The challenging question offered you by the great Spanish poet, Antonio Machado: ‘What have you done with the garden entrusted to you?’
  • If I am not comfortable with my own aging I will not be able to help others become comfortable with their aging.
  • ‘Reality’ means: We just don’t know what will happen.
  • Always remember the importance of ‘Assumptions,’ ‘Attributions,’ and ‘Attitudes’
  • Remember: My cup has to be less than full in order to add to it.  ‘Surety’ = a full cup with no room for more AND ‘Doubt’ = a cup that is never full and is always able to accept more (at minimum, to consider accepting more)
  • Remember: The Sufi emphasizes essence over form and substance over appearance.
  • The ‘Educator’ kindles the fire; the oil is already in the lamp.
  • My mentor, R.T. counseled me: ‘Pay attention to your throw-away lines’ (statements and questions)
  • My unabridged dictionary’s definition of ‘Power’ = ‘One’s ability to act.  My definition of ‘Power’ = the extent to which one chooses to link and outer capacity for action with an inner capacity for moral reflection that is rooted in love, empathy and compassion.

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The first responsibility of a leader is to define reality.  The last is to say, ‘Thank You’. –Max De Pree

Given that rapid shifts, changes and transformations are THE NORM, there are a number of qualities that designated leaders must develop (or develop more fully).  ‘Develop’ has to do with skill building such that the skill becomes ‘second nature’ and it has to do with ‘building capacity’ for developing a skill has little to do with one’s capacity to utilize the skill.  Once one has ceased to build capacity one begins to lose capacity (e.g. once a weight lifter ceases to lift he, or she, will lose the capacity to lift).  The ideal is that the designated leader will develop the qualities AND we do not live in an ideal world; therefore a designated leader, at minimum, needs to ensure that these qualities are available via others so they can be utilized.  There are a number of qualities that designated leaders need to develop and build their capacity for utilizing; I am going to offer us three to consider: the capacity to synthesize, the capacity to innovate, and the capacity to be perceptive. 

The Capacity to Synthesize:  Designated leaders who have developed their capacity to synthesize are able to sort through and make sense of the tsunami amounts of information that wash over them (often on a daily basis).  They have the capacity to identify what is crucial and what is important.  They are then able to put this together (synthesize it) in meaningful ways that can be understood by others and when needed can then be powerfully utilized. 

The Capacity to Innovate:  Designated leaders who have developed their capacity to innovate are able to combine known disparate and perhaps ‘conflicting’ elements in ways that enable folks to effectively solve problems, embrace paradoxes and polarities, and resolve or dissolve both ‘right-right’ and ‘harm-harm’ dilemmas (today designated leaders are faced with many more paradoxes, polarities and dilemmas than problems to be solved). 

The Capacity to Be Perceptive:  Designated leaders who have developed their capacity to be perceptive have developed their intuition (so that they trust it).  They are able to perceive the crucial and the important.  They are able to perceive the ingredients that help people and processes function in certain ways (ways that contribute, for example).  They are able to perceive a diversity of styles (thinking, learning, listening, communicating, etc.) and then use their capacity to innovate so that these styles work more in harmony than in dissonance. 

Capacity Building: In order for one to build his or her capacity the following ingredients – based upon my experience – are necessary.  (1) A ‘need’ to do so (a ‘want’ or a ‘desire’ or a ‘wish’ will not be sufficient); (2) A skill must be developed; (3) A support system must be put into place and then utilized; (3) Certain ingredients must be in place (a swimmer, for example, who wants to develop his or her capacity to swim 20 miles without stopping will need the following ingredients: water, the right suit, a coach, certain physical and mental exercises, a certain diet, and practice); (4) Practice of the right sort is crucial for practice does not make perfect – practice makes permanent; (5) Capacity building is, in effect, never-ending – when I cease to build my capacity I begin to lose capacity. 

None of this is easy; but it is doable.  When the going is particularly challenging I have found the following mantra to be helpful: ‘I can’t go on!  I go on!

Our greatness lies not so much in being able to remake the world, as in being able to remake ourselves. –Gandhi

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