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Archive for October, 2021

THINKING ABOUT LEADERSHIP, PART I

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

Consider, Gentle Reader, that there are two types of leaders – designated and situational.  A leader has at minimum one follower (no follower no leader, except perhaps by ‘title’).  For me ‘leadership’ is the by-product of the leader-follower relationship; leadership is relationship centered, it is not centered in a single person.  If the leader-led relationship is ‘functional’ then leadership is ‘functional’ and if the relationship is ‘dysfunctional’ then leadership is ‘dysfunctional’ – and therefore both the leader and the led are accountable and responsible for what we call ‘leadership.’ 

For these two postings I will focus on the ‘designated’ leader (the person, who by title and role is considered to be a leader).  I am thinking of leaders in the public and private sectors, in the for-profit and not-for-profit sectors.  Today we also know that the rate of ‘shifts, changes, and transformations’ continue to emerge rapidly and in non-predictable ways.  This combination is the ‘new norm’ and this ‘new norm’ powerfully impacts all designated leaders.   

Given this, it seems that there are a number of qualities that today’s leaders must possess and develop more fully.  This morning I offer you, Gentle Reader, three of them to consider.  Currently these are the three that standout for me.  They are: the capacity to synthesize, the capacity to innovate, and the capacity to be perceptive.  A key word/concept in each of these statements is the word/concept ‘capacity.’ 

We can develop the skill or ability to synthesize and to innovate.  We are born with the ability to be perceptive and as human beings we will, it seems, continue to develop our natural ability to be perceptive as we continue to mature.  However, in order to develop our ‘capacity’ we must become awake and aware and intentional and purposeful and committed and disciplined.  Once we stop building our capacity we begin to lose capacity (much like the weight lifter begins to lose his or her capacity for lifting weights once he or she ceases to lift; the longer the lay-off the greater the loss of capacity).  Once we have integrated a skill so that it has become ‘second nature to us’ we will (all things being equal) always have access to that skill (think of our ability to ride a bike – once you have integrated the skill so that it has become second nature you can stop riding a bike for years and then get on a bike and within a minute or less you will be riding again). 

So the first step for the leader is to develop his or her synthesizing and innovative skills and to discern his or her ability to be perceptive.  Now the leader can begin to develop his or her capacity for each of these three qualities. 

Next time we will briefly explore each of these qualities and then we will briefly explore my concept of capacity building. 

We become what we habitually do. –Aristotle

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HISTORY – OUR TEACHER, PART II 

I concluded Part I with a question: ‘Does History justify revolutions?’  This is an ancient debate.  Consider if you will, Gentle Reader, that it is well illustrated by Luther’s break from the Roman Church versus Erasmus’ plea for patient and orderly reform; or consider the Russian Revolution in 1917 which was fed by outworn and inflexible institutions (to be replaced by other inflexible institutions).  Consider that the effects of the revolutions would have occurred via evolutionary processes not revolutionary processes.  The United States would have become the dominant factor in the English-speaking world without her revolution.  The French Revolution replaced the landowning aristocracy with the money-controlling business class as the ruling power – AND – a similar result occurred in nineteenth-century England without bloodshed and without disturbing the peace. 

One of the things that revolutions do is redistribute wealth.  Historically, wealth is an order and procedure of production and exchange rather than an accumulation of goods (which are mostly perishable) and is a trust in men and institutions rather than in the intrinsic value of paper money or checks; violent revolutions do not so much as redistribute this old type of wealth as destroy it. 

With certain revolutions there may be a re-division of the land, but the natural inequality of men soon re-creates an inequality of possessions and privileges, and raises to power a new minority with essentially the same instincts as in the old. 

Given this, Gentle Reader, consider another ancient take on revolutions.  The only ‘real’ revolution is in the enlightenment of the mind and the improvement of character (these can occur within three dimensions – the Individual, the Relational and/or the Organizational).  Consider then that the ‘true’ (real?) revolutionists are philosophers, mystics and saints.  Consider then that most of us have the potential to become one of these revolutionists for we have the potential and capacity to both enlighten our minds and improve our characters (Confucius and Plato believed that only a select few could achieve either; on the other hand Buddha, Jesus and Muhammad believed that we all are capable of achieving both). 

History is our teacher and confirms all of the great thinkers to be correct – a paradox to be sure, perhaps a great irony, or perhaps just a bad joke that is being played on us human beings. 

Is revolution necessary and does history justify revolution?  The answer is ‘yes’ when it comes to the revolution that involves the enlightenment of the mind and the improvement of character.  The answer is ‘perhaps not’ when it involves violence.  If enough of us choose the former then perhaps we humans can avoid the latter.  Our teacher, history, does provide us lessons for both options.  Are we, the students, ready?    

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HISTORY – OUR TEACHER, PART I

Gentle Reader, you might well be familiar with the ancient Chinese proverb: ‘When the student is ready, the teacher will appear.’  More recently a wise person noted that if we do not learn from history we are bound to repeat it.  Are we, the students, ready to learn from history – our teacher?  I wonder. 

These past few months I have been thinking about ‘government’ and ‘history.’  There are lessons to be learned.  Since we humans have ‘recorded’ history most governments have been oligarchies – ruled by a minority, chosen either by birth, as in aristocracies, or by a religious organization, as in theocracies, or by wealth, as in democracies.  Rousseau noted that it is ‘unnatural’ for a majority to rule, for a majority can seldom be organized for united and specific action – whereas a minority can (in the United States we have two major political parties and both are controlled by a minority within the party and our elected officials receive a minority of the votes possible). 

If the majority of abilities is contained in a minority of folks (traditionally men), minority government is as inevitable as the concentration of wealth; the majority can do no more than periodically throw out one minority and set up another (in the United States the established ‘Party’ that can woo the ‘Independents’ wins the National Election; the Independents are mostly ignored for two to three years and then catered to during an election year). 

Historically, the aristocrat holds that political selection by birth is the sanest alternative to selection by money or theology or violence.  At its best, Aristocracy selects a few (mostly men) and trains them from birth, through example and experience (e.g. holding minor offices) for the tasks of government; these tasks require a special preparation that no ordinary family or background can provide (as contrasted in a democracy where folks are not consciously prepared for government service). 

Historically, Aristocracy not only nurtured statesmanship, it was also a repository and guardian of culture and served as a stabilizing influence.  Note what happened to morals, manner and art during and since the French Revolution.  The French Revolution emerged because the aristocracy monopolized privilege and power too narrowly, because it oppressed the people with selfish and ego-centric exploitation, because it retarded the growth of the nation by becoming addicted to ancestral ways, because it consumed the people and the resources of the state, because it relished ‘territorial wars’ (think: ‘build an empire’).  The majority finally had enough and the excluded banded together in a violent revolt.  The ‘new rich’ joined with the ‘old poor’ and the guillotine cut off a thousand noble heads.  Then, democracy took its turn in the misgovernment of mankind.

As an alternative, does history justify revolutions?  We will explore this question next time. 

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WE ALL HAVE EXPECTATIONS. . .

Know that every deed counts, that every word is power… Above all, remember that you must build your life as if it were a work of art. –Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel

We all have expectations – ask any optimist or pessimist.  Expectations are rooted in our ability to imagine (some would say ‘visualize’), in our past experiences, in our hopes and fears, in our perceptions and in the metaphors we use to make sense of the/our world.  Given these tap roots – and others that I have not mentioned – it is easy for us to move our expectations into the land of fantasy.  I remember that more than fifty-four years ago I participated in a ‘Creative Writing’ course.  The professor was inviting us to focus on our craft and yet a number in the room kept moving us to a discussion about ‘publishing our work.’  Their imagination had shifted to a fantasy land.  Their expectations shifted from ‘writing’ to ‘royalties.’  Consider, Gentle Reader that expectations rooted in illusion tend to lead us to an experience rooted in fantasy.

On the other hand, expectations rooted in the work itself become the useful tools the art-maker possesses.  In other words, what we need to know about our next work is contained within our past work.  For example, for the writer the place to learn about execution is in execution; the best information about what you love is rooted in your last contact with the work you love.  Our work itself is our guide, our teacher, our mentor.  As long as we work our work we have a never-ending reference book to help us. 

By-the-by Gentle Reader, this reference book is ours alone.  Think about it.  We have at our disposal a great reference book and no one else has access to it; it is ours alone.  Our work teaches us about our work; it teaches us about our methods; it teaches about our disciplines (or lack of them); it teaches us about our potentials; it teaches us about our strengths and it informs us as to our growing edges.  The questions of course: Are we open to perceiving?  Are we open to learning?  Are we truly educable?  Are we committed searchers, seekers and learners? 

The lessons I am meant to learn are contained within my work.  Am I willing to look closely and clearly – without the judgment that cripples and without the fear that stifles and blocks and without wishes and hopes.  Try asking your work what it needs – not what you need.  Then stop, step-back and listen.  Listen intently and receptively.  Listen as you want to be listened to.  Listen as the good parent does to the searching and seeking child.  With this type of listening the teacher will speak; our inner guide will step forth onto the stage and speak.  Will we be able to ‘hear’?  Ah, Gentle Reader, that is one question indeed. 

I would like finally to advise you to grow through your development quietly and seriously… You can interrupt it in no more violent manner than by looking outwards and expecting answers from outside to questions which only your inner most feelings in your most silent hour can answer. –Rainer Maria Rilke

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SIX ‘C’ WORDS. . .

Yesterday I was reading one of Tolstoy’s essays.  As I was savoring his ideas I stopped reading when I read the word ‘conscience.’  A thought emerged: ‘In order for me to engage my conscience I must be awake and aware, intentional and purposeful; I must be conscious.’  I wrote down ‘Conscience,’ and ‘Consciousness’ and as I looked at them four other ‘C’ words quickly emerged.  So, Gentle Reader, I invite you to ‘Consider 6 C-Words.’ 

Consciousness:  This is the prerequisite for the others.  As I noted earlier, ‘Consciousness’ involves being awake and aware and it involves being intentional and purposeful.  ‘Consciousness’ also involves ‘knowing myself’ (the Oracle at Delphi reminds us how crucial this is).  Each of us has our favorite ways of ‘waking up’ and of ‘putting ourselves to sleep’ (Think: Driving the same route to work each day is certainly ‘sleep-inducing’ and promotes ‘driving on automatic pilot’).   

Conscience:  My ‘Conscience’ is my inner guide and helps me discern between ‘right and wrong,’ and ‘good and evil’ and between ‘virtue and vice.’  In order to engage my ‘Conscience’ I must become ‘Conscious.’  One way we mute our ‘Conscience’ is to engage that which helps us ‘go to sleep’ – to become un-Conscious. 

Character:  My ‘Character’ is composed of a number of ‘virtues’ and ‘vices.’  It is also composed of a number of ‘strengths’ and ‘growing edges.’  In order to understand my ‘Character’ I have to learn to become awake and aware of these ‘seeds’ that are lying dormant within me and are waiting for me to nurture them into life.  My ‘Conscience’ will provide me ‘guidance’ as to which I will nurture, grow, sustain and pass on to others.  These ‘seeds’ can be nurtured in ‘response to’ (that is, I can become response-able and responsible); they can also be nurtured in ‘reaction to’ (that is, I can simply react – which does not take much awareness nor much intentionality). 

Choice: I choose.  I choose to be or not to be awake and aware and intentional and purposeful.  I choose which virtue or vice to call forth and I choose which strength or growing edge to call forth.  I choose to be response-able and responsible and I choose to be reactive and reactionary.  I always have choice and I always choose.

Conduct:  I act.  The first 4 ‘Cs’ will directly impact (if not directly determine) my actions; my conduct.  My ‘Conduct’ will affect me and the other(s).  My ‘Conduct’ will affect the four dimensions that comprise my being a fully human being.  These include my Physical dimension, my Intellectual dimension, my Emotional dimension and my Spirit(ual) dimension (‘Spirit’ is that which sustains us; it is life-giving).  My ‘Conduct’ is seldom ‘neutral.’  My conduct will nurture one or more of these dimensions or my conduct will deplete one or more of them (this ‘depletion’ is akin to doing ‘violence’ to myself). 

Contemplation:  Consider that experience plus reflection is the learning.  ‘Contemplation’ (that is, ‘reflection’) is crucial if I am going to learn.  ‘Contemplation’ requires that I take the time to stop, step-back, reflect, re-orient and then re-enter.  ‘Contemplation’ does not guarantee that I will learn; it is, however, one path-way to learning. 

Gentle Reader, I invite you to ‘Consider’ these ‘6 Cs’ and I invite you to add more ‘flesh and muscle and perhaps some fat’ to the ‘bones’ I have provided us this morning.  I also invite you to add some of your own ‘Cs’.    

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