Good Day, Gentle Reader.  Yesterday, as I was reflecting, the name Tim O’Brien entered into my consciousness.  In 1990 Tim O’Brien’s powerful book ‘The Things They Carried’ was published.  Gentle Reader, if you are not familiar with Tim’s book I invite you to spend some time researching it and perhaps you will purchase a copy and savor his writing, his stories. 

Each of us ‘carries’ a back-pack full of ‘stuff’ (some carry so much that they have a trunk, not a backpack, strapped to their back – or perhaps, more appropriately strapped to their psyche or their soul). 

I closed my eyes and thought about all that I carry: self-inflicted wounds, wounds delivered by others, regrets, hopes (some embraced and some discarded), fears, and anger. 

I grew up in a family that ‘hid’ anger (mostly) from one another.  We hid our anger in the clothes of sarcasm.  Each of us developed the skill of sarcasm which was also clothed in humor.  I also learned to turn my anger back on myself and this enabled me to carry my anger as ‘depression.’  In 2010 a poem emerged into my consciousness.  This morning, Gentle Reader, I will share this poem with you.  I also invite you to reflect some on the things you carry. 


[©Richard W Smith, 4 April, 2010]

I carry anger and rage within me

As someone carries concealed weapons;

I am not always aware they are there

Yet when called upon they are within easy reach.

Simple things can summon them from their resting place;

An interruption when I am concentrating,

A question that challenges me in some way;

I sense no pattern although I believe one exists.

Sometimes I wonder where all of this anger and rage comes from;

Sometimes I simply accept the reality of their existence.

At times I am puzzled, if not perplexed, by their presence;

At times I surrender to the reality of their residence.

Although I have experienced their spontaneous awakening

for many years I am almost always taken aback by their


The spark that ignites the flash in the pan is the result

of a remark, observation or question.  The flash of fire

touches the black powder that explodes and sends my

anger and rage ripping through the once calm air;

This is an anger and rage that tears into someone like

a mini-ball does when it spreads soft skin and shatters

bone and organ leaving deep wounds and permanent scars.                      

There is a proper measure in all things. –Horace

Consider, Gentle Reader, that each of the polarities that I noted in PART I are challenges that are to be embraced by each individual, each dyad (think: on-going 1-1 relationship) and each organized group of three or more folks (think: team, department, division, organization, ‘center’ – as in ‘health-center’).  This, of course, complicates the challenge (a bit of an understatement).  This reality also ensures that at times there will be ‘conflict’ between/among these entities (think: conflict of values, needs, assumptions, and where each resides on the continuum between the two polarities). 

Let’s explore a bit a common polarity: Short Term___________Long Term.  Let’s explore this a bit through the ‘lens’ of an organization – a private high school.  A private high school is a hybrid (as are many organizations).  It is partly a ‘business’ and it is partly an ‘educational institution.’  There are a number of ‘departments’ that exist within the institution (think: academic, athletic, administration, board of directors, fund raising, etc.).  Each department consists of a number of individual human beings (for our example I will not be adding each student and each student organization – I feel whelmed over just thinking about adding this dimension).

At any given time (again, ‘time’ means from this moment looking back 6-9 months and looking forward 9-12 months), each of these entities is challenged to find the golden mean for them.  At this time, is my/our golden mean closer to the short term or closer to the long term?  If I/We are focusing more, during this time, on the short term, what is being done to also focus on the long term?  What are the high priority needs present during this time that require our golden mean to focus more on the short term?  How might these short term high priority needs impact – directly or indirectly – my/our high priority needs for the long term?

The short-term challenges us to maintain and the long-term challenges us to experiment.  The short-term challenges us to be operationally-focused and the long-term challenges us to be conceptually-focused.  The short-term focuses more on ‘Mission’ (what we do each day) and the long-term focuses more on ‘Vision’ (our ‘Big Dream’).  The short-term challenges us to explore ‘tactics’ and the long-term challenges us to focus on ‘strategies’. 

All of this quickly becomes complicated when we think of each person, each dyad, each organized group of two or more folks embracing this one polarity AND realizing that there are, as I noted in PART I, many additional polarity-challenges that must be embraced.  Of course, we are not able to focus on each of these at the same time.  So another challenge is to prioritize the polarities into ‘high priority needs’ and, at this time, low priority needs (of course, to continue to complicate things, within a brief period of time a low priority need can become a high priority need).  How do we prepare so we can be appropriately reactive when necessary?  How do we prepare so that we can always be response-able?  How do we tap into the strengths of each person and how do we help each person develop or develop more fully his/her potential/actual strengths? 

Well, Gentle Reader, I think that this provides enough for us to reflect upon, think about and ‘noodle.’  Or we can just set it aside and ignore it… We have choice. 

I am thinking of Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel’s words: All are responsible.

Whoever cultivates the golden mean avoids both the poverty of a hovel and the envy of a palace. –Horace

Good day, Gentle Reader.  Recently I have been thinking a great deal about ‘Leadership Challenges.’  If you have read my posts you might remember that for me ‘Leadership’ is a by-product of the leader-led relationship.  One of the challenges that both the leader and the led are charged with embracing is what I call ‘The Challenge of Polarities.’  [NOTE: The other challenges include ‘Problems,’ ‘Paradoxes’ & ‘Dilemmas’ (Right-Right and Harm-Harm Dilemmas)

A major challenge in embracing a polarity is to define in the ‘now’ the ‘Golden Mean’ that best serves the leader and the led (and those directly and indirectly impacted by the leader-led relationship).  A few thousand years ago a guy named Aristotle offered us his concept of ‘The Golden Mean.’  The golden mean is NOT the middle.  The golden mean will move depending upon the highest priority needs of the leader-led.  Embracing the golden mean does not involve an ‘either-or’ choice; it requires an embracing of a ‘both-and’. 

Here are some common ‘both-and’ polarities that the leader-led are challenged to embrace – and they are challenged to discern the golden mean for each.


  • Individual – Community/Group
  • Short Term – Long Term
  • Operational – Conceptual
  • Mercy – Justice
  • Commitment – Loyalty
  • Concrete – Abstract
  • Direct – Inquire
  • Lead – Follow
  • Provide Support – Hold Accountable
  • Maintain – Experiment
  • Coerce – Persuade/Influence
  • Speak – Listen
  • Be Effective – Be Faithful
  • Teach – Educate
  • Surety – Doubt
  • Negotiables – Non-Negotiables
  • Vision (‘Big Dream’) – Mission (What is lived each day)
  • Economic Bottom Line – Human Wellness Bottom Line
  • Appropriately Reacting – Appropriately Responding
  • My/Our High Priority Needs – Your/Their High Priority Needs
  • Culture – Sub-Culture(s)

The ‘Challenge’ is for the leader-led to discern the golden mean between each.  For example: At this time (think: at this moment looking back 6-9 months and looking ahead 6-9 months) where is the golden mean for ‘Short Term – Long Term’?  The leader-led might decide that it is imperative that a focus, at this time, on the ‘short term’ is crucial AND that at the same time they must not ignore the ‘long term’ (thus, the concept of ‘both-and’ rather than ‘either-or’). 

Now, we also know, that ‘things happen’ and so the leader-led must prepare to be able to appropriately react – quickly change focus – when challenged to do so.  How does one prepare without knowing what to prepare for?  One way is to learn about and engage in Scenario Planning.  There is a great deal written about this process AND, by the by, the process does work.  A story might help.

Once upon a time there was a man who, every work-day, took two trains and two subways to and from work.  For ten years he followed a routine.  After he settled in on the train or the subway he would look for the emergency cord and then he would visualize a scenario in which he would have to pull the cord and stop the train or subway.  During the tenth year as he settled in his seat on the first subway he looked for the emergency cord and as he did so the subway began to move and then people began to shout.

A man had been caught in the door – he was half in the subway and half out.  The subway was beginning to move from the platform to the tunnel; if the subway were not stopped the man would be crushed.  People were screaming: ‘STOP THE SUBWAY!!!’  This man did not have to think…he had prepared himself to react.  He, literally, jumped over some people and grabbed the cord and stopped the subway a few feet short of the wall that would have crushed the man to death.  This man had, indeed, prepared himself without knowing what, exactly he was preparing for. 

Next time we will continue our brief exploration of ‘Leadership Challenges.

If you do not know how to ask the right question, you discover nothing. –W. Edwards Deming

It was in the spring of 1978.  I was sitting in a hotel restaurant eating breakfast and reading.  I was learning about the concept of ‘Total Quality Management’ as espoused by W. Edwards Deming.  Deming was, and still is, considered to be the ‘Father of the Total Quality Movement.’  I found it interesting – but not really surprising – that Deming had to go to Japan in order to have his ideas seriously considered.  I remember asking: ‘Why Japan?’  ‘Why not the U.S.A.?’

As I read and pondered these questions the quiet of the restaurant was broken when five men entered and were seated.  It was not that they were noisy.  It was the attention that was given to them by the staff and by the Manager himself.  I was intrigued – ‘Who were these guys?’

As I looked at them I noticed that one man at the table of five was looking intently at me.  I smiled and he nodded.  He continued to look at me.  I returned to my reading and pondering.  THEN.  I looked at the man again… The man looking back at me was indeed W. Edwards Deming.  WHAT!?  I looked again.  Yup, it was true.  W. Edwards Deming was sitting about 30 feet from me. 

I must have shown him my look of recognition and surprise.  He nodded again and moved the empty chair next to him; I interpreted this as an invitation.  I went over and he moved the chair further out and I sat down.  He warmly welcomed me as he introduced himself.  The four others just looked on in silence.  Deming said that he noticed the title of the book I was reading.  I told him that I had become interested in the ‘Total Quality’ concept and I was reading and pondering and emerging some questions for further consideration/exploration.  Deming asked me to share some of the questions I was pondering.  I paused.  Then I offered him the two I mentioned earlier in this post: ‘Why Japan?’  ‘Why not the U.S.?’  

Deming smiled.  He looked at the four others; they looked a bit embarrassed.  Deming then said that ‘Total Quality’ is like a tree that is fed and supported by three major tap roots and that one of these is the ‘most important.’  He said that the first root is the ‘Customer’ – both the external and the internal customer.  The second root, he continued, is ‘Counting’ – measuring is crucial.  The third and the most crucial root is the ‘Culture.’ 

Deming then continued.  Americans are enamored with ‘Counting’ and ‘Customer’ and do not value ‘Culture.’  The Japanese, on the other hand, know the importance of ‘Culture’ and that this tap root is the most important.  He said the he went to Japan because they understood the importance of ‘Culture.’ 

Deming paused.  He then continued.  He said that the four gentlemen with him were GM executives.  He said that he had spent the previous day with twenty GM executives and that they would be together one more day. Deming looked at them and said that he was frustrated for he could not, it seemed, get them to understand the importance of ‘Culture.’  The four smiled and their smile was tinged with embarrassment. 

Deming spoke reflectively as he said that he thought he would go to his grave without these folks – and others in the U.S. – understanding how crucial ‘Culture’ is when it comes to organizational life and to embracing his ‘total quality’ concept.  He said that he has warned these executives that the Japanese will, in a few years, dominate the auto industry because of the quality of their cars.  AND so they did.

Today (2021) I still have difficulty getting organizations of all types to embrace the significance of ‘Culture’ and ‘Sub-Cultures’.  Deming continues to be proven correct AND he did go to his grave in 1993 still frustrated with the U.S.A. when it came to embracing the importance of ‘Culture.’    

Manage the cause, not the result. –W. Edwards Deming

The delicate balance of mentoring someone is not creating them in your own image, but giving them the opportunity to create themselves.” –Steven Spielberg  

I have, Gentle Reader, been thinking more about ‘Roles’ & ‘Stuff.’  They do complement one another.  First, some ‘Stuff’ to ponder.

I offer you, Gentle Reader, the following question and I invite you to spend some time reflecting upon it.  THE QUESTION: How do I learn?  There are a number of ways that we ‘learn.’  My experience is that with some effort (or a lot of effort for some) one is able to discern his/her most ‘effective learning style.’ 


  • Auditory – One learns most effectively by listening
  • Experiential – One learns most effectively by engaging (think: doing)
  • Visual – One learns most effectively by reading or ‘watching’
  • A Combination of Two of The Three ‘Styles’

I learn most effectively by a combination of ‘Visual’ and ‘Experiential’; I do not learn well by ‘listening.’  Now there is a paradox for me.  I am able to listen well if I am seeking to understand via a combination of listening, framing and offering questions and listening again to the responses.  I am able to learn from attending a lecture if I take good notes and then take time to read and study the notes. 

So, Gentle Reader: What is your preferred learning style?

There is a complement to ‘Learning Styles’ and that is ‘Thinking Styles.’  Gentle Reader I invite you to spend some time with Robert Bramson’s ‘Five Thinking Styles’.   Here are Bramson’s ‘Five Thinking Styles’:

  • Synthesist – the person is able to combine a variety of thoughts
  • Idealist – the person thinks ‘big picture’ – the ‘visionary’ is generally an idealist
  • Analyst – the person easily breaks ideas down into parts or is able to frame questions that help others do so
  • Realist – the person is rooted in the rational and logical and strives to ‘see things as they really are’
  • Some combination of two of these – for example, when I do my best thinking I am an ‘idealist-synthesist.’ 

So, Gentle Reader: What is your preferred Thinking Style?  I invite you to spend more time with Bramson before you respond to this question.

Now, Gentle Reader, I invite you to consider some ‘Roles’ that are available for us to take on (there are more, but these will have to suffice for now):


  • Teacher – Knowledge of…  ‘Puts In’
  • Educator – Belief in…  ‘Calls Forth’  [‘Educare’ = to call forth]
  • Mentor – Sees potential…  ‘Challenges’ via inquiry
  • Guide – Been there…  ‘Walks with & Counsels’ [Reflective Experience]
  • Searcher-Seeker…  ‘Curious, Doubtful’  [Searches with & seeks to understand with]
  • Coach – Helps identify & develop [Identifies & supports practices & disciplines and knows that ‘Practice does not make perfect; practice makes permanent’]
  • Thought-Partner – Employs Inquiry [Supports, broadens & helps to deepen one’s thinking via inquiry…influences more than persuades; invites and does not seek to coerce or convince or convert; promotes ‘choice’]
  • Servant – Seeks to serve others’ ‘highest priority needs’… Serving does not mean ‘meeting’…   (Guideline: ‘Do those served grow?}

EACH OF THESE ROLES seeks to avoid coercion or manipulation and each strives to be rooted in persuasion and influence.  Some are, at times, ‘directive’ and each seeks to be invitational (honoring that the other always has choice AND that the one being served is called to embrace ‘choice’ & ‘consequences’).  The Goal is ‘Consistency, not perfection (we ‘stumble the mumble’ rather than ‘walk the talk’).

During my adult-years I have striven to become what I call a ‘Reflective-Participant-Observer’ in/of my own life.  I am thinking of Charles Handy’s observation: ‘Experience plus Reflection is the Learning.’

Today, Gentle Reader, I will conclude with two of my favorite ‘Guiding Questions’:

  • Does the way you (teach, educate, mentor, etc.) get you what you want?
  • What do you want?  [Begin by responding to the second question first]

The mind is not a vessel to be filled, but a fire to be kindled. Plutarch