Tag Archives: empathy

More Thoughts on the Servant Leadership Model

I’ve been thinking a lot about the current political discourse on the national level, and the proliferation of the ego-centered leadership style across the spectrum of political, professional, and social subcultures. This has always been an important issue, because when we look around us, there are more leaders than we sometimes realize.

When we consider, for example, a popular, well-connected artist in a local arts scene or an outstanding small business owner who has a following and a golden tongue, we can say that the artist and business leader both have influence (power) and thus can be seen as leaders, if only in the informal sense. We can also say that a family member is a leader if that family member has formal authority as a parent, or as the oldest child of an elderly parent who has Alzheimers. While they may not be national heroes or infamous villains, a well-connected local artist, a small business owner, and the head of a family all have a profound impact on the spiritual lives of the people in their communities.

This is an important point that bears repeating. A leader on any scale has a profound impact on the spiritual life and well-being of an entire community. It is for this reason that we must never take for granted a leader’s motivations, actions or words. And, considering the universal presence of leadership in all aspects of human life, we must continually revisit the question of what constitutes quality leadership, and the potential consequences of promoting narcissists into leadership positions (or elevating them to the heights of power in any setting, from family settings to social movements). We also need to re-visit the devastating impact of enabling narcissistic power moves and maintaining our silence in the presence of the abuse of power. As many have come to realize in recent years, there is a growing trend of selfishness (even cruelty) and short-sightedness in leadership and decision-making on all levels of society. The frightening thing is, we have come not only to expect these qualities in our leaders, but to admire them. Selfish narcissism has become king, and we’re more okay with it than ever.

One important response to this trend is to promote its opposite. With this in mind, I often find myself promoting the practice of Robert Greenleaf’s model of Servant Leadership in writing and in conversation. This leadership framework has gained traction in recent years and has earned respect among organizational psychologists, leadership scholars, political theorists and business management experts.

According to Greenleaf, Servant Leadership begins with the idea that leaders must see themselves as servants first, and leaders second, if they hope to make a difference or to build a sustainable enterprise. For these leaders, leadership is not a status or station. It is an electrical current that moves simultaneously with directionality and permeability. In directionality, we see continuous movement oriented towards a goal. In permeability, we see the ongoing reality of intersubjectivity, in which the leader is both influencer and influenced. In this state of affairs, a genuine leader’s confidence and humility are fused together in a dynamic balance.

Put in a less philosophic way: Servant Leaders believe that when they find themselves in a position of power on any level, it’s up to them to set a standard of decency and thoughtfulness, to establish a mission that others can get behind, and to continually check in with their people to remind them that they matter and to inspire them to proceed.

A Servant Leader’s explicit aim is to serve others by generating what can be called “spiritual capital.” A capitalist in the true sense of the word is a person who generates capital, invests that capital, spends that capital meaningfully and re-invests that capital responsibly. Imagine if the substance of that capital was the human spirit. How much better would our world be?

For Servant Leaders, successful leadership on any scale -whether building a city or constructing a fence relies chiefly on the willingness to engage people’s humanity and intelligence, and their preternatural desire to be safe, happy and respected.

These leaders do not lie, do not complain, and do not ask those with less power in a situation to look up to them or to feel sorry for them for taking on the burden of leadership. They listen to concerns, and they do not shame or disappear people who raise them. Instead, they thank people for raising concerns, they address those concerns, and they act upon the wisdom derived from addressing those concerns.

The question of how a person arrives at this moral level of leadership, I’ll have to leave to others, at least for now. But, there is no question about the healing, productive qualities of humility, vulnerability, and the strength and personal power that comes from treating others with dignity and working with them to build a benevolent world.

 

The Fuse that Drives the Flower

* This is an excerpt from Chapter 2 of All Shine: How Stewardship Built a Vision

 

Dylan Thomas wrote a famous poem in 1934 called “The force that through the green fuse drives the flower.”  I don’t quite understand this poem, but the metaphor of a force behind the green fuse that nourishes a flower is a compelling one.

I want to carry this metaphor into the realms of leadership, teamwork, empathy and the drive for excellence.  In a slight departure from this metaphor, I will focus on the green fuse and leave aside the “force”.  I’ll just say that the force could be what the Buddhists call “True Nature”, the Christians call “agape” or “grace” and the non-theistic humanitarian, transpersonal theorist or existentialist philosopher might call “Being”, the natural state of calm beingness that makes it easier to express one’s authentic self.

If the flower of this revised metaphor is a healthy and productive community of whatever scale, then the green fuse that drives that flower is the intentional attitude of maintaining an atmosphere characterized by humility (openness to new learning), respect for others (the ability to “look again” instead of reducing people or their ideas to stale objects), and the willingness to “stay in the conversation”, whether that conversation involves negotiating personal/professional boundaries and relationships or sticking with a complex problem, which is temporarily holding things up.  This is far removed from the usual oppressive, hierarchical and egocentric approach to getting things done, and is ultimately more effective.

This is because, in the absence of an oppressive, frustrating or even traumatizing environment, people are free to be themselves as they are.  They are free to simply “be” without the need to exhaust their energies in reaction to perceived threats or to build hardened defensive shells to shut out negativity, the experience of being shut out or silenced or other dehumanizing external factors.  This kind of atmosphere is an ideal circumstance because it enables discovery, creativity, collaboration and self-expression.

Of course, this scenario does require some direction and guidance.  A laissez-faire, totally-hands-off approach could easily squander the opportunities, so there has to be some leadership, direction or guidance.

A group project, institution or business has the best chance of succeeding if the chief stewards are wise and mature enough to build a culture of architects, a culture in which the potential of others is sought and accessed, or at the very least not stifled.  I would even say that the chief stewards may not need to be wise and mature per se, but brave enough to encourage this kind of culture.  Why brave?  Because it’s brave to let others’ brilliance shine.  It’s brave to allow others to be right.  It’s brave to be called out for something you’re not doing so great.  It’s brave to relinquish control.

It’s brave because it involves some pain.  It’s painful to give up control, to be open to critique, or to not have the answers.  Who doesn’t want to be the most brilliant or to be the one most beyond reproach?  Who doesn’t want things to go her own way without the need to time-consumingly consult others? Being open to this kind of pain is not an easy task, but it’s necessary, because in my view, it’s more reality based. We are not always right, and, by default as human beings, we only have a partial, limited or sometimes even distorted perspective.  Whether due to our conditioning, our personality type, our worldview, or unresolved trauma, we need other people’s perspectives and expertise if we hope to grow as people and to be effective in the work we have set out to do.

The green fuse that drives the flowering of any enterprise is ultimately built on ensuring excellence by respecting and caring about people. It is both efficient and evolutionary.

The Green Fuse
The green fuse that drives the flowering of any enterprise is ultimately built on respecting and caring about people. It is both efficient and evolutionary.

Criticism of Servant Leadership

*This is an excerpt from Chapter 2 in All Shine: How Stewardship Built a Vision

 

Servant Leadership can also be called socially responsible leadershipcaring leadership, or even steward leadership.  Boiled down to its essence, this is a leadership philosophy that makes caring about people the most important thing.

It would be difficult to argue that leaders should not care about people.  But, while most critics would agree that caring leaders are needed in the world, some have argued that this leadership style subtly and deceptively contains gender bias, a patriarchal stance, and  a strong representation of the myths and moralities in the Judeo-Christian tradition.  Some have even referred to it not as a leadership philosophy but a leadership theology pointing out what they consider a strong religiosity and the occasional reference to the word “spiritual” in some of the literature.

Although Servant Leadership in recent years has steadily gained recognition as a viable model for positive, ethical and efficient leadership among leadership experts and social scientists such as Margaret Wheatley and Peter Senge from the MIT Sloane School of Management, it is by no means a universally-accepted paradigm.

The main criticism is that this model of leadership is paradoxically both ambiguous and  and over-prescriptive, as this framework a) doesn’t catalogue empirically observable behaviors and b) doesn’t take into account the diverse perspectives and insights that arise within a community, instead relying on a predetermined ideology.  This, according to critics, is counterintuitive to the post-modern age of facilitative approaches to decision-making in which all stakeholders participate and retain their own autonomy culturally and ideologically.

I can appreciate some of these criticisms, and the fact that Robert Greenleaf was a white, male Christian easily opens this model up to being discredited.  At some point, I hope to write a response to an essay criticizing Servant Leadership from a feminist perspective. In that piece, I will respond to the micro-analysis and socio-cultural deconstruction of the assumptions, aims, language and contradictions inherent in this leadership philosophy.

For now, I just want to make one point.

Stewardship is an attitude of wanting to take care of our world.  A person who has an attitude of wanting to help (be of service), will identify problems and work to find ways to solve those problems.  If that person winds up in a position of formal authority, he is likely to want to develop people on his team or in his organization.  This means he will be able to notice frustration in those who feel they lack a voice.  He will most likely want to remove that frustration or help to neutralize it by adopting a participative approach in which that person will have a voice.  And the organization will be all the better for it, because the information gleaned from the participative process will most likely lead to more informed decisions.  This will help the enterprise and help sustain long-term relationships within the community, team or organization.

So, the assumption that Servant Leadership necessarily precludes an egalitarian approach to decisions is just that.  An assumption.  And, an unexamined one, at that.

The key is empathy.  When a person of formal authority genuinely cares about people and has a compassionate attitude, he will use whatever leadership models and strategies available to him that can get the best results and maximize the benefits for the largest amount of people.  Sometimes, this will be participative, and sometimes it might be transformational.  Leaders who serve (or servants who lead) are the ultimate situational leaders because they are aware and emotionally intelligent enough to understand the full potential of these models and strategies.

We can go around in circles, critically analyzing and making sure never to allow any one theory, individual, group or position to dominate (a major preoccupation that postmodernists/deconstructionists have), or we can be honest about the fact that leaders will always be around and that we need to promote at the very least the fundamental value of having a heart.

Heart matters in a world of need.

Postmodernist Deconstructionism
Critical Theory has been helpful over the years in revealing the underlying assumptions and tacit or unacknowledged motivations in theories, frameworks, authority systems and other domains. However, criticism which starts with the premise that nothing can ever be objectively true is itself prejudicial and can devolve into rational nihilism and a profoundly cynical worldview.

 

Ten Principles of Servant Leadership

*This is an excerpt from the essay All Shine: How Stewardship Built a Vision

The following list of principles was s developed by Robert Greenleaf.  The categories are drawn from the literature, but the descriptions are in my own words.  For a more in-depth look at the Ten Principles, please visit this website, which provides a description written by Larry Spears.

Listening – A servant leader truly listens to people, not just to understand but to address needs as they arise and are communicated.  Surprisingly, humility is not listed as one of the top characteristics of Servant Leadership, but can be included here as the close cousin to listening.  Without humility, the servant leader can never learn and certainly has no reason to listen.

Empathy – Compassionate leaders care about people they are working with, the people served by the enterprise they are leading, and the community in which their organization operates, including the larger world community.

Healing – A leader who cares about people is committed to wholeness and healing.  If she recognizes a deficiency or need in a person, she works to find ways for that person to heal and to become more complete.  This is not an annoying distraction from the organizational mission or business bottom line, but an important part of building and sustaining a team of mutually trusting partners.

Awareness – A person who has formal authority in any situation, including a workplace, group project or national organization has enormous power to make a difference.  This is why it’s key to elevate people to leadership positions who have a sophisticated awareness about many things.  Awareness of the impact of their work, the patterns of behavior on their team, and the importance of gathering information from multiple sources to ensure the best way forward.

Persuasion – Leaders who care about people do not cause harm.  They recognize that forcing others to act or to take a position is a harmful action, and thus, seek to persuade people with reasoned argument and an appeal to the mission.  They are not coercive.

Conceptualization – Like Transformational Leaders, Servant Leaders provide a compelling framework for the work they are doing in concert with others.  They take care to build concepts that appeal to the hearts and minds of people and that promote values that directly relate to the mission.

Foresight – Socially responsible leaders look ahead to potential fallout and beneficial outcomes of their actions and the actions of the enterprises they lead.  They contemplate not only the ways in which their organization might benefit from specific actions but how decisions and actions impact their people and the community around them.  In other words, they take the long view.

Stewardship – The word stewardship has become a popular piece of jargon, but the principle is profound and important.  Too many stories are coming out that tell the tale of a CEO who comes on board at the eleventh hour of a business and runs it into the ground before walking away with millions of dollars and a large workforce unemployed and destitute.  A Servant Leader comes on board to rescue the business or to work with people to find ways to close the business that can benefit the largest amount of people as possible.  She takes seriously her responsibility to steward the enterprise in a way that helps the micro-community of the business or organization and the macro-community in which the enterprise operates.

Commitment to the Growth of People –  This is a big one.  Regardless of the original mission or reason that people come together, a leader who wishes to serve the common good is first and foremost committed to growing as a person, allowing others to help her grow as a person, and helping other people to grow.  Whether coming together to record a music album, making a full-length feature film, running a public school, or building a legal case, the people with formal authority to set the tone for the community of people always have their eye on the common good as the greater, over-arching purpose.  In this category, stewardship takes on a broader meaning.  What is ultimately and always stewarded is the building of a better world because people have the chance to grow.

Building Community – All of the above principles act in concert to build a positive community.  Because of the principles of listening, awareness, persuasion, stewardship, healing, awareness and empathy, there is little room for a “cult of personality.”  Furthermore, if the conceptualization of the community’s mission is clear and includes foresight, there will be a built-in understanding of the ways in which authoritarianism and “cultishness” can be avoided.  This is partly related to a commitment to the growth of people.  People can only grow if a community isn’t all about the “leader” and if there’s room for feedback and development of the leader himself.  Ultimately, this kind of community is made up of Servant Leaders, all of whom take turns to step into the role of stewarding the community’s process at one time or another.

Taking care of one another is a principle of stewardship in a world of extraordinary need.
The overarching principle that guides a leader who serves is the commitment to use one’s influence and resources to take care of others, at whatever scale.

A Servant Leader’s Worldview

* This is an excerpt form Chapter 2 of the essay All Shine: How Stewardship Built a Vision

I want to repeat the quote from my friend to illuminate an important aspect of a Servant Leader’s worldview.

“Compassion is not boundless.  To be effective, it needs to be channelled into a specific locality or sphere in which you have the influence to make at least a part of the world a better place.”

I believe he meant to say that compassionate action is not boundless.  We all know that no one individual or group is going to “save the world”, and we all know the results for those who have tried.  An imperial attitude of domination -however well-meaning- will always meet with fierce resistance, and when greatness succumbs to grandiosity, a hero always burns.

But empathy and compassion can indeed be boundless.  The modern-day adage “Think globally, Act Locally” sums this up pretty well.  Our actions have an impact on the vast web of inter-related relationships and systems throughout the world, and those of us who understand and act in accordance with this understanding naturally develop over time a sense of kinship and empathy with people -and even animals- that we don’t know personally.  And, when people with this worldview act, it is always with the understanding of the impact of that action on the world.  They act locally with a vast global attitude.

It is beyond the scope of this essay to delve into how a person comes to the fulcrum of development in which she genuinely empathizes with literally billions of others.  It also needs to be pointed out that the paradigm of perfect, altruistic enlightenment in a single individual can be harmful because it’s an impossible ideal.

Servant Leaders are not and can never be perfect, altruistic flawless human beings.  But, they can, and often do practice the principles that inform their greatest moments of clarity and good will.  In those moments, the servant who has chosen to lead recognizes with crystal clarity the responsibility he has to take care of the present.  He recognizes that taking care of the present can help to take care of the future for people he will never even meet.

This is most certainly a boundlessly compassionate worldview, and it matters a great deal in a world of extraordinary need.

But, Servant Leadership should not be viewed as a station of completed development or evolution.  Rather it should be viewed as a cultivated attitude and as a practice.  Part of that practice includes the commitment to humility, listening to others, and to remain open to new knowledge and learning.

Interconnectedness
According to Robert Greenleaf, Servant Leaders recognize the impact of their actions on the larger world, and thus take care to consciously steward the process of their organizations and teams to help make a better world. They recognize that the world is a vast web of inter-relatedness.

Servant Leadership in a World of Extraordinary Need (Part II)

* This is an excerpt from the essay All Shine: How Stewardship Built a Vision

The world has always been in extraordinary need, and that’s not going to change.  We live on a planet with natural laws, including weather patterns, ecosystems, and the presence of a large variety of organisms all competing with one another for survival.  The common reality faced by all organisms is the inevitability of death and the desire to continue on with living until that inevitable event happens.

For individual human beings, survival includes the need to be safe, accepted, nourished and happy as defined by each individual.  A significant portion of our survival is addressed by the development of society, which includes the development of local, national and international laws and armed services which protect us, physical infrastructures that transport and house us, agricultural systems that feed us, medical services that heal us, and institutions that organize, educate and serve us.

So, we can’t get away from the fact that human beings need organizations, both small and large to take care of our world.   We are continually organizing resources, building/managing institutions which curate and distribute those resources, and placing people in leadership positions to provide direction in the management of those resources. Leadership is also needed to facilitate the ongoing development and management of abstract resources like scientific knowledge, political and economic theory, moral frameworks and religious/spiritual systems.

Like it or not, we will always need organizations, which means that we will always need leaders.

Put in the plainest possible terms, human beings are called upon to be stewards of our world, and this means we are sometimes called upon to take initiative and to step out in front of others to influence the direction of that stewardship.  In the best possible scenario, those of us who choose to step out possess the fundamental asset that best qualifies us to ask others to place their trust in us: empathy.

In optimal circumstances, people in leadership positions care about people and act in good faith to actively serve them.   But, even a cursory glance at the leadership landscape reveals to us that many leaders operate out of narcissism, ego-centric agendas, and short-term gains at the expense of others, and frequently act with a destructive, even sadistic need to triumph over people.

The world is burning, because we fail to recognize the traits of narcissistic leadership and continue to promote narcissistic leaders into positions of power throughout the entire maze of society’s institutions.  We need to learn how to spot these people before elevating them.  But, more importantly, we need to learn how to spot those we can trust to take responsible stewardship of our resources.

It’s time for us to identify the traits we should expect from  genuinely caring leaders and to promote the understanding of those traits far and wide, if we hope to adequately attend to the extraordinary needs of the world we share.

We can start by examining the characteristics and behaviors of Servant Leaders.

Devastation
Leaders who are servants first, will work with others to provide stewardship in a world of extraordinary need.

Servant Leadership in a World of Extraordinary Need, (Part I)

*This is an excerpt from the essay All Shine: How Stewardship Built a Vision

 

In early October, I was walking with a friend.  We were discussing the topic of compassion, and he said something striking.

“Compassion is not boundless.  To be effective, it needs to be channelled into a specific locality or sphere in which you have the influence to make at least a part of the world a better place.”

This quote is a good starting place for introducing the concept of Servant Leadership, because the sphere of influence and the compassionate vision of a Servant Leader is broad indeed.

The term Servant leadership was coined by Robert K. Greenleaf, who founded the “Center for Applied Ethics” in 1964.  After he died in 1990, the name of his organization was changed to the Greenleaf Center for Servant Leadership.  At the present time, the Servant Leadership movement representing the ideas of Robert Greenleaf is under the stewardship of Larry Spears.

 

What is Servant Leadership?

 

Greenleaf spent more than 40 years after early retirement researching management, leadership, education, and organizational culture.  Over time, he came to the conclusion that the institutions in this country -both public and private- are suffering from a “crisis in leadership.”

In the Essay that started it all, Servant as Leader, Greenleaf introduces a vision of leadership in which leaders see themselves as servants first and leaders second.  Leadership is viewed as an instrument of serving the greater good, not as an end itself, and the search for and acquisition of power or influence is always subsumed into the overarching desire to be of service.

Servant Leaders are fundamentally about people and define the stakeholders in their sphere of influence quite broadly, including colleagues, subordinates, boards of directors/trustees, clients and even the world at large.  They place the needs of their people as primary and will not sacrifice the needs of the organization they lead in the service of furthering their own careers.

Before I elaborate on the conceptual framework around Servant Leadership, I want to say a few words about the title I chose for this section.  The wording of the title was borrowed from an article by legal scholar David Yamada, the author of the Healthy Workplace Bill.  His title is “The social responsibilities of intellectuals at a time of extraordinary need.”  The article is worth a read, as are most of the articles David has written.  I do not know David personally, but at the present time, he is one of my favorite authors in the area of workplace ethics and social responsibility.

merlin-robertgreenleaf

Thoughts on Situational Leadership

This is an excerpt from Chapter 2 of the essay All Shine: How Stewardship Built a Vision

 

Situational Leadership  This philosophy of leadership was developed by Paul Hersey, (who wrote a book called Situational Leader), and Ken Blanchard, the author of The One Minute Manager.  Simply stated, situational leadership theory proposes that no one leadership framework can work all the time in all contexts.  The idea is very simple.  Use whatever strategy is needed in the moment.  Use whatever leadership style that is needed in a particular time frame or place.

This makes good sense to me, and it’s almost self-evident.  All of the above modes of leadership have their uses, after all, depending on the variables within and surrounding an organization or project.

But, there’s a vital question in all of this.  For situational leadership to be truly effective, one has to have arrived at a fulcrum of personal development, in which he or she possesses the awareness, skills and insights that can best facilitate the appropriate use of various leadership strategies.

One can take the position that personal growth, awareness and maturity don’t matter, and that leaders only need to be trained in “leadership strategies” to be successful.  But, this position is very hard to defend and begs the following questions:

1.  Can an internal rolodex of strategies be built up over time and expertly executed by a leader regardless of the maturity and intentions of the leader?

2.  Can effective leadership be ensured by generating a list of strategies that can be studied, internalized, and accessed when the need arises in a given situation?

3. If leadership can be reduced to the acquisition of strategems, are some of the tactics and strategies on the list qualitative, involving the personal development of the leader?

The situational leadership model promotes the value of utilizing all modes, styles and frameworks of leadership, but doesn’t offer a satisfying explanation around the personal qualities that need to be developed and available for a leader to make effective use of them all.

Thus, we return once again to the personal character, worldview and development of the leader himself.

Screen Shot 2014-10-28 at 2.15.44 PM

Thoughts on Charismatic Leadership

This post is an excerpt from an essay called All Shine: How Stewardship Built a Vision

 

Charismatic Leadership  This style (or mode) of leadership is difficult to define because it involves what Carl Gustav Jung called participation mystique, the amorphous area of psychological co-participation that involves intense relationships between leaders and followers.  This is not necessarily a bad thing, especially if the leader works to hold in check his charismatic energies and remains respectful of the autonomy, intelligence and self-power of her followers.  Charismatic leadership can be a potent antidote to organizational malaise (and perhaps corruption) and can help set things right again under the best of circumstances.

This style of leadership is often the result of the natural personal attributes of the leader(s) and can be seen as a mode of interaction within the overall spectrum of transformational leadership.  Charisma can be powerful indeed when building up individuals and championing a bold, new vision.

But, charisma can also be a destructive force in the individuals and groups who possess it and for those who have the misfortunate to be crushed underneath its weight.

The problem with charismatic leadership is that it often becomes “all about me.”  If the leader is set up as the end-all-be-all, then there is little room for others to grow or to become leaders in their own right.  In addition, followers may eventually give up their own critical thinking capacities by taking in a totalistic ideology that the charismatic leader (or charismatic group) has inculcated in them.  This problem has surfaced time and again in businesses, public institutions spiritual/religious organizations, political campaigns and organizations, the circle of adoration around public intellectuals, and even academia, where teachers can exert a powerful influence over young minds.

To learn more about this phenomenon, I would recommend a book called “The Guru Papers: Masks of Authoritarian Power”  by Joel Kramer and Diana Alstad.  This book is not against spiritual teachings or teachers (nor am I, having taken my Buddhist vows in the late 1990s and attended various retreats in that general vein). The guru/disciple model simply provides a clear foundation for the argument that man must be free from undue influence if humanity is to further evolve.

In the view of the authors, the inherently authoritarian setup of the traditional guru/disciple model best exemplifies the dark and bright sides of authority itself. The second half of the book explores in a clear and lucid way our “inner authoritarian”  -the small child in each of us that wants a surrogate parent to take care of us and to think for us, so that we can feel stable and secure in a ceaselessly changing, sometimes frightening world.

Other books explore similar themes, both secular and spiritual, with a balanced outlook that respects frameworks, ideologies, paradigms and power structures alongside a critical inquiry into the limits of giving up one’s autonomy to another person or belief system. Two books by Jack Kornfield come to mind: After the Ecstasy, the Laundry, and A Path With Heart. Both of these books are considered classics in the fields of meditation and spiritual psychology.

In the secular realm, one of the most important books on the subject was published back in 1961 and is still relevant. Thought Reform and the Psychology of Totalism was written by Robert Jay Lifton and explores the “brainwashing” techniques used by the Chinese Communists against their own people and western captives. This book systematically examines the various techniques used by people and groups to subjugate the critical thinking capacities of captives and converts, including “thought-terminating cliches” which are phrases used to shut down a conversation or free thought.

For more on the subject of freeing the self from authoritarianism, the reader may wish to check out “Escape from Freedom” by Eric Fromm.  This book is drier, but a really exciting read intellectually as it takes the reader further into the existential and philosophical dimensions of breaking free to a life of authenticity.

Charismatic Leadership
Charismatic people often attract large numbers of followers. Their charisma can run the gamut from infectiously charming behaviors to powerhouse passion. All too often, a cult of personality can form and it becomes “all about me” rather than the original mission.

Thoughts on Transformational Leadership, Part II

From Chapter 2 of the essay All Shine: How Stewardship Built a Vision

 

Transformational leaders have made a significant impact on our world from the beginning of time.  In all domains of knowledge, social policy and morality, these leaders have inspired others towards greatness, building cities and nations, ending slavery and other forms of injustice, and boldly expanding knowledge of humanity, even at the expense of death or ridicule.

But, to put it bluntly, transformational leadership can be dangerous.

Franklin Delano Roosevelt presided over the United States during the Great Depression and most of America’s involvement in World War II, and is almost universally credited with saving the economic system of the United States and inspiring a nation to collectively roll up its sleeves and work together to defeat fascism abroad.  FDR was without a doubt, a profoundly transformational leader, and he is frequently pointed to as an example of this style par excellence by leadership scholars.

But, so was Adolf Hitler, the Chancellor of Germany and the chief architect of the most devastating war and large-scale murder in the history of the world.  Like Roosevelt, Hitler provided intellectual stimulation, mentored his closest followers (consideration), provided inspirational motivation to the masses, and became the model of the very ideals he promoted in his speeches and policies.

In my understanding, the dark side of transformational leadership can be mitigated by promoting awareness of the dangers of authoritarianism and the need for leaders to encourage others to lead.  Ultimately, the best transformational leaders work to build transformational leadership in their followers and leave behind a legacy that outlasts themselves.  In other words, to be genuinely transformational and positive, leaders should steadily work to make their own selves obsolete.

Admittedly, this is extremely hard to do, which is why transformational leadership so often devolves into the dark side of charismatic leadership.

Adolf Hitler
Adolf Hitler’s Transformational Leadership inspired the largest mass murder and large-scale war in world history.

Thoughts on Transformational Leadership, Part I

From Chapter 2 of the essay All Shine: How Stewardship Built a Vision

 

Transformational Leadership  This style of leadership has powerful pros and cons.  In a time of crisis or change, transformational leaders can build inspiration, commitment and a can-do attitude in those who are part of an organization or project.  Much has been written about transformational leadership, and there are quite a few insights offered by leadership scholars about what transformational leadership looks like and what specific behaviors, attitudes and strategies this style entails.

James MacGregor Burns, a presidential biographer and leadership expert introduced the idea of transformational leadership decades ago, and his framework was further expanded by the work of Bernard M. Bass.  Other leadership scholars have further studied the phenomenon, which has led to a further illumination of the key behaviors of transformational leaders.  Below is a list developed by these researchers of the four key behaviors.  The descriptions are in my own words, but the categories are drawn from the literature.

Key Behaviors of Transformational Leaders

 

  • Individualized Consideration – The transformational leader carefully studies his followers and searches for their gifts and strengths.  Once he understands what they are capable of -and perhaps where their growing edge lies- he works steadily and consistently alongside each individual and helps to transform the latent gifts into fully realized personal visions.  No one in the organization or group project is left to his own devices.  Followers are individually cultivated to be the best they can be.
  • Intellectual Stimulation – Transformational leaders provide a compelling framework for the way forward, clarifying and transforming visions and goals.  The key here is to stimulate the thinking of the organization by satisfying the intellectual appetites of the team.  Ideas are carefully crafted with an eye on the mission, and virtually no ground is left uncovered.  There is no ambiguity around “why we are here.”
  • Inspirational Motivation –  To be truly transformational, a leader must inspire her followers. This behavior is similar to individualized consideration, but the key difference is that the attention is paid to the macro-ideals and values that inform the organization’s mission and goals, in addition to the micro-attention to individuals characterized by individualized consideration.  Here, the transformational leader points to societal goals, shared values, and humanity’s deepest aspirations.  Inspirational motivation goes a long way in transforming an organization, especially in times of crisis.
  • Idealized Influence – This aspect of transformational leadership brings to light the centrality of the leadership-followership paradigm in this style.  There is no question that there is a key figure in the organization or enterprise and that she has become the model for the organization’s values, norms and commitments.  Simply stated, the leader promotes, expresses and inhabits certain values and behaviors.  And the followers -learning by example- eventually emulate and potentially elevate those values and behaviors.  Put another way, the transformational leader intentionally influences her followers towards the adoption of specific ideals and becomes the expression of those ideals.
Screen Shot 2014-10-27 at 2.21.20 PM
Reverend Martin Luther King Jr. was an extraordinary Transformational Leader, igniting the Civil Rights movement and promoting profound humanistic values among millions of people.

 

 

Thoughts on facilitative leadership

By Steven J. Lawrence © 2014

 From chapter 2 of the essay All Shine: How Stewardship Built a Vision

Facilitative/Participative Leadership  Now, we’re getting closer to a style of leadership that takes people and innovation into account.  Leaders who take the facilitative approach encourage the participation of all members of an organization/project in key decision-making while retaining the formal authority to cast the tie-breaking vote at any time.  The idea is that those closest to the action have information that is vital to informed decision-making.  Thus, dialogue and input is consistently sought and then actions are taken which take into account the information that is learned.

It should be easy to see how gratifying this can be for participants in any group endeavor, whether a rock band, a hospital, or a public university.  For the most part, we can expect those closest to the ground to have developed more specific expertise in their particular skill (or job) than the formal leader.  Thus, it’s important to get their input for the success of the organization.  Moreover, failure to get input can also cause considerable frustration and even resentment throughout the organization.  If this were to persist, the organization or group project would eventually suffer from high turnover, lack of buy-in or investment, and the potential demise of the whole enterprise.

So, participation is key to morale and mission.  But, sometimes, this democratic approach is not enough, and can often lead to “analysis paralysis.”  At some point, after seeking the insights of others, the leader must provide explicit guidance and direction, even if some of her decisions are not universally appreciated.  Pointing the way forward from the “bully pulpit” of formal authority is especially key in times of change or crisis.

Facilitative Leadership
Leaders that build a culture of participation engender a sense of mutual trust, appreciation and investment throughout the organization. They respect and implement the insights and ideas of those closest to the action.

Thoughts on transactional leadership

From chapter 2 of the essay All Shine: How Stewardship Built a Vision

 

Transactional Leadership  This mode of leadership is often found in “middle management”, especially in large bureaucracies.  It is a strictly rules-bound method of leading a project or organization.  The principle is simple.  If you do X, you will receive Y.  If you fail to do X, you will receive -Y.  Rewards and consequences are the name of the game, and “the way we do things here” is the way we will always do things here.  If you’re late, you get written up.  If your sales rise above quota, you get a bonus.  If you write less speeding tickets than expected, you get a written reprimand.

The problem with transactional leadership (when used exclusively as a leadership style) is that innovation and change is nearly impossible.  In a constantly changing world, organizations led by transactional leaders will fail, because of the built-in, rigid and institutionalized resistance to change.  It should be easy to see how quickly change agents are targeted for removal from these places.

Transactional Leadership
Transactional Leadership is a tightly-controlled style of management in which work is heavily codified and quantified. Rewards and consequences are strictly tied to deliverables, and change and innovation is discouraged.

Thoughts on “laissez faire” leadership

I have been writing an essay about collaboration, using the process of making the album “Eleventh Hour Shine” as a case study.  To my surprise, the essay has taken a turn towards the study of leadership.

I’ve decided to post different portions of the essay in individual blog posts.  Today, I’ll present a brief passage about a style of leadership called “laissez faire” or “Delegative” Leadership.

Laissez Faire/Delegative Leadership  This leadership style seems to be the most prevalent in large bureaucracies.  The words laissez faire come from the French and mean “let” (laissez)  “do” (faire).  The phrase was born from a French economic philosophy which champions the idea that an economic system should take its own course without regulation or interference.

As far as leadership is concerned, this style has some merit in that the leader chooses not to micro-manage or interfere with subordinates.  Rather she allows the activities of the organization/project to take their own course and trusts people to do what is needed.  If the right people are hired or brought onto a project or organization -people with an internal locus of value and intrinsically high standards- then this mode of leadership might be effective.  Problem is, this is rarely if ever achieved.

Projects, businesses or organizations with this style of leadership are destined to fail because this mode of leadership doesn’t take into consideration the following factors: 1) There are certain personality types that thrive on clear and directive guidance from people with formal authority.  2) The lack of direction and oversight almost always breeds a power vacuum in which informal authority can be seized by unscrupulous individuals with psychopathic tendencies.  This is why workplace bullying is so prevalent in public bureaucratic institutions.

Laissez-Faire Leader
Laissez-Faire Leadership can lead to organizational malaise and potential chaos.

Death brings “closer to home”

This morning, I awoke with a vivid recollection of numerous moments throughout my life.  It didn’t feel like what the Buddhists call “monkey mind,” the onslaught of chaotic, rapid disconnected thoughts that cause agitation or coagulate into a rigid storyline.

It felt more like the simultaneous visitation of life moments beyond time and space.  Hard to explain.  It was more than just the visual representation of long-ago moments.  It was the presence of positive feelings associated with all of them.

I remember I used to say to myself “which one was my home?” when reflecting on all the changing relationships and situations throughout my adult life.  As I have experienced three sudden deaths in my family this year, this question often comes to the fore with a gentle intensity.  Gentle in the sense that there is no urgency to answer the question.  Intense in that this question is the primary, all-encompassing one at this time in my life.

steve:running on beach:81
Steven at Old Orchard Beach, Maine, spring of 1982

Tibetan Buddhist teacher/scholar Chogyam Trungpa Rinpoche often wrote about “the genuine heart of sadness.”  He defines this sadness as an all-encompassing vulnerability, the ability to hold in one’s heart the whole spectrum of the human condition all at the same time without filters, without anger or regret, without fear, and most importantly, without romanticism.  Put another way, all of these feelings both positive and negative can be present simultaneously, and can be accepted, too, as part of that spectrum.  The idea is that when we really look at life in a truly real way, the painful, the beautiful, and the terrifying … if we can really be with that, a feeling of kinship for all things sometimes percolates and we feel a sweet kind of sadness.

That is the feeling I woke with this morning, and I would like to honor those life moments that cascaded through me as I slowly opened my eyes. I’ll just list a few of those moments without much elaboration.

The deep regret and anguish on my frail father’s eyes last October, as I spread my sister’s ashes at sea. He died unexpectedly six months later.

The feeling of “home” whenever I hear country music, which I was introduced to in the early 1980s when my mother, sisters and I sang at country & western jamborees.

The bag of rotting lobster shells filled with maggots, underneath the Route 295 bridge in the summer of 1980 in my hometown Portland, Maine.  I was 10 years old at the time and vividly and immediately recognized that death was a part of all this, and sometimes disgusting and undignified.

The taste of Dr. Pepper and Alexander the Grape candies, mixed with the smell of the Nissen Bread factory, located at the bottom of Munjoy Hill where I once lived with my sister and father.  My life in Portland, Maine was not a happy one, by any means, but there was the feeling of “home” that has never left me.

Now, that my sister and father have both died without saying “goodbye”, that feeling of “home” is a deeply private place now that nobody alive can ever really share with me.

There are many homes I’ve experienced over the years -jobs, friendships, projects and social scenes I identified with.  Now, they are all gone and their memory feels like a series of foreclosures.  There has always been an ending beyond my control, even if the ending was a positive transition to something else.

I recall that the original Guautma Buddha of 2,500 years ago equated the liberated heart with “homelessness”.  Letting go of vanishing realities and impermanent phenomena is akin to dying into all things.  Maybe this is what the genuine heart of sadness is all about.

It just might be that the recognition of my powerlessness over death is bringing me closer to home than I ever was.

 

Paying attention in the teaching situation

The other day, I had an interesting experience that reminded me why it’s important to be aware and hopefully even caring when working with people -especially in a teaching situation.

On a warm October morning, I was training a mother and her two teenage sons in how to use a Segway properly and safely.  As the Director of Training, I have been developing a curriculum for tour guides that includes the ability to recognize the basic psychology and learning styles of the people we are training and the appropriate training responses available to us.

Segway student

Her older son, 15, who I will call Reynold, exhibited a lack of energy and appeared not to notice me even as he stood on his Segway and looked straight at me.  I knew right away that he had a learning disability and that I had to use very specific instructional strategies to teach him.  I recognized that if I failed in teaching him, he could fall off the Segway and get hurt.

The younger son, 13, who I will call Justin, lacked a strong sense of self – what some psychologists and educators would call a sense of agency, the feeling that “I can, and I will”.  I was not aware of any learning disabilities in Justin, but I recognized that his educational background was poor, as he did not know important words that I regularly use in my training, such as “come to a gradual stop.”  He did not know the word gradual, and I could tell that he was embarrassed about it.  For him, I felt the main issue was confidence and self-esteem.

In both training situations, the safety of my guests very much depended on my resonance with their particular learning style.  It was less important that they understood the narrative of the city’s history, and so much more important that they mastered the use of the motorized vehicle they would be operating.

I succeeded in training them, because I cared.  I paid attention.  And I responded to their specific needs.

For Reynold (who I later found out had Asperger’s Syndrome), I had to use re-direction and hard, physical reality-based instruction.  For example, “on the left, we have a big, red building”  or “look at your left wheel as you turn left” and “don’t let your wheel touch the bright orange cone”.  Using modifiers and repeating words was an important strategy for keeping Reynold focused and safe.

I also made sure to place the responsibility of learning on Reynold himself.  I did this by asking questions that would guide him to come to make decisions on his own.  For example, I asked him “Why did you take your hand off the left handle bar as you stepped off?”  He answered that he didn’t want to jerk the Segway to the side.  Questioning helps students to develop an ownership of whatever material they need to master, as they come to grasp the “why” and “how” rather than try to remember an abstract “right answer.”

Justin required only two things.  Paraphrased instruction, in which I used big words and their simpler cousins (e.g. gradually and more slowly); and consistent public praise, while using his name.  I could have just used the word slowly, but I felt responsible for helping build his vocabulary, which is why I introduced a few ten-cent words into the training.  “Great, Justin, you carefully rolled over the speedbump, just like we trained you!  Well-done!  You’re becoming an expert.”  All of my responses were designed to build a sense of agency and confidence in Justin, something I dearly hoped he could walk away with…. just enough that it might carry over into his next endeavors.

So, the key here is that I succeeded because I cared.  And, because I cared enough to respect the actual teaching situation, paid attention to the details of the situation, and responded appropriately, these young men not only enjoyed themselves but avoided potentially serious injuries.

So, it’s important to be aware.  This is the simplest essence of the teaching situation.  It is the essence of cultural sensitivity, attunement to different learning styles and abilities, and concern for the well-being of the person we are serving.

Nothing satisfies me more.

 

The Hero’s Journey… a lens for storytelling

Over the past six months, I’ve been developing an approach to educational consulting, that I think has made me a better teacher.  One client in particular has given me an opportunity to see stories in a whole new way, as we have worked together for two months building a theatre arts curriculum geared towards middle school and high school students.

The unit that I enjoyed the most is the one on playwriting, which we have titled “The Play’s the Thing.”  In this unit, we explore playwriting through the lens of “The Hero’s Journey,” the archetypal path traversed by the protagonist in most conventional narratives.  The book we studied together is called The Writer’s Journey by Christopher Vogler.

hero3

Traditionally, plays and screenplays are organized into three acts.  The first act involves exposition, where we learn about the characters’ lives, histories, gifts and flaws.  The second act involves conflict wherein the main character is set against external forces (people, circumstances) that keep him/her from achieving some objective.   The third act involves resolution, in which the conflict comes to a close in some way and the objective is either achieved or tossed aside in favor of a more enlightened objective.

But, the Hero’s Journey offers a deeper more meaningful template for storytelling.  In the curriculum we have been building, we divided the 12 phases of the journey into three parts and correlated them with the traditional three-act structure.   What we discovered is that the individual phases of the Hero’s Journey become very much alive in each act and help to place exposition, conflict and resolution in a broader and more detailed context.

I will return to this topic in a later post, but i want to introduce the reader to the Hero’s Journey for reference.  Below is a brief description of the phases.  Most of the writing below is copied directly from Chrisopher Vogler’s website.

Act I (Exposition)

1.    THE ORDINARY WORLD.  The hero, uneasy, uncomfortable or unaware, is introduced sympathetically so the audience can identify with the situation or dilemma.  The hero is shown against a background of environment, heredity, and personal history.  Some kind of polarity in the hero’s life is pulling in different directions and causing stress.

2.    THE CALL TO ADVENTURE.  Something shakes up the situation, either from external pressures or from something rising up from deep within, so the hero must face the beginnings of change.

3.    REFUSAL OF THE CALL.  The hero feels the fear of the unknown and tries to turn away from the adventure, however briefly.  Alternately, another character may express the uncertainty and danger ahead.

4.    MEETING WITH THE MENTOR.  The hero comes across a seasoned traveler of the worlds who gives him or her training, equipment, or advice that will help on the journey.  Or the hero reaches within to a source of courage and wisdom.

Act II (Conflict)

5.    CROSSING THE THRESHOLD.  At the end of Act One, the hero commits to leaving the Ordinary World and entering a new region or condition with unfamiliar rules and values.

6.    TESTS, ALLIES AND ENEMIES.  The hero is tested and sorts out allegiances in the Special World.

7.    APPROACH.  The hero and newfound allies prepare for the major challenge in the Special world.

8.    THE ORDEAL.  Near the middle of the story, the hero enters a central space in the Special World and confronts death or faces his or her greatest fear.  Out of the moment of death comes a new life.

9.    THE REWARD.  The hero takes possession of the treasure won by facing death.  There may be celebration, but there is also danger of losing the treasure again.

Act III (Resolution)

10.  THE ROAD BACK.  About three-fourths of the way through the story, the hero is driven to complete the adventure, leaving the Special World to be sure the treasure is brought home.  Often a chase scene signals the urgency and danger of the mission.

11.   THE RESURRECTION.  At the climax, the hero is severely tested once more on the threshold of home.  He or she is purified by a last sacrifice, another moment of death and rebirth, but on a higher and more complete level.  By the hero’s action, the polarities that were in conflict at the beginning are finally resolved.

12.   RETURN WITH THE ELIXIR.  The hero returns home or continues the journey, bearing some element of the treasure that has the power to transform the world as the hero has been transformed.

Schaudenfreude and “nerd bonafides”

I just read a few articles on the designer, H. R. Giger.  Learning about his work designing the “Alien” creature in the movie of the same name was interesting.  Even more interesting is the story of how an early version of “Dune” was never made.  Giger was one of its effects people.

What struck me about this article was a very articulate comment by a self-described “nerd”.  As is so often the case, it was a comment that reveled in the desire to place negativity front and center as a primary value.  Oddly, though, I found this comment quite elucidating.

The comment below reminds me that people putting themselves out there need to take into account that thee will always be a significant number of people who are hard-wired to go against the grain, the bandwagon, the tide, the trend and sometimes just the man.

As this commentator puts it, it’s about maintaining one’s “nerd bonafides.”

Being a nerd in something of the self-hating variety, I admit to getting a disproportionate thrill from people’s reactions to any perceived infraction against a beloved franchise.

I could say it’s something high-minded along the lines of any good idea held too precious will be smothered and snuffed out, leaving only a dogmatic shell behind -therefore change must be embraced; but I think it’s just base schadenfreude.

It’s the kind of thing that could ultimately embitter and turn me, earning me my own domain in Ravenloft, I say to verify my nerd bonafides.

ESAC, a non-profit with an integrative mission

Recently, I joined the Board of Directors of a non-profit called ESAC, which funds adult education programs across the city, works to prevent homelessness, and helps senior citizens avoid foreclosures on their homes.

Today we had a meeting that was so inspiring I could barely contain myself. We were talking about expanding adult education programs, and forming partnerships with other non-profits, community colleges and GED programs across the city.

By sharing resources and building coalitions of mutual support, the possibility for fulfilling a mission shared by so many is that much more possible.

Screen Shot 2014-05-06 at 4.48.02 PM

Crowdfunding… giving it a go

It’s been an interesting experience working to raise awareness and funds for a music project, especially online with a public website.

A few weeks back, I made the decision to go with Kickstarter because of its all-or-nothing funding model.  I figured that the best approach was to create a transparent budget for mastering, duplicating and releasing an album called “Eleventh Hour Shine” and to use a crowd-sourcing site that guaranteed results for backers who pledged their dollars.  This way, their dollars would only be used for a successful project, not for a half-finished one where the money could conceivably be used for other purposes.

But, it is somewhat stressful to strike the appropriate balance.  Putting your work out there and asking folks to help fund it requires a certain degree of moxie.  But, I feel it’s important not too be too aggressive or presumptuous, which is where some of the stress comes from.

In the end, it’s not so important whether the funding campaign succeeds, but whether we ran the campaign respectably and with class.  If we succeed, then the music will have a chance to be heard, and we can green light the CD release show.

If we fall short of our goal, then at least we can be happy that we gave it a go.

AlbumCover92013B

 

 

What I’ve learned about “positive politics”

Screen Shot 2013-12-28 at 5.40.51 PM

I miss graduate school.  The UMASS Boston program’s training in pedagogy was excellent, but the dual degree also focused on organizational change and dialogue, which I fell in love with.

The following list is a guide for managing the political aspects of effective management and community organizing.  It was developed during my graduate work, and the original title was “The Key Elements of Effective Representation”.

I adapted the title and language to include the broader domain of both formal and informal leadership in communities, projects and organizations.  The basic point is that leadership requires the consistent quality of trustworthiness and the intentional effort to maintain healthy relationships with colleagues, subordinates, superiors and all other stakeholders.  Some organizational scholars have called this approach “positive politics.”

KEY ELEMENTS

1.  Adopt a healthy attitude about “politics”

Politics is a neutral word. It means nothing more than a group of three or more people negotiating the ways and means for distributing resources (money, time, people) and determining who gets to have influence and how much. Positive politics, if played fairly and ethically, can create mutual respect and harmony. Without active and positive political management (see elements below), the politics of any community or project can descend into defensive maneuvering and unproductive conflict. So, adopt a healthy attitude towards your political role. It is needed.

2.  Maintain collegial relationships with all stakeholders

Even if you are not actively seeking support for something or gathering input, informally check in with colleagues, managers, subordinates, partners and other stakeholders in your community.  Most importantly, treat all with equal respect and dignity -even those who have disagreed with you or have opposed ideas and/or initiatives you have proposed in the past (see number 5). Please keep in mind that those with a lower-status position in your organization could one day be a huge resource for an initiative, so try not to slight them or exclude them.  Of course, they matter in their own right, so treat them respectfully for its own sake.  Finally, try not to adopt the anger or hardline stance of any particular faction in difficult situations (even if you share their point of view). You will need to keep your relationship with the offending party intact during these challenging circumstances, so try to remain as neutral as possible.

3.  Circulate, circulate, circulate!

Simply put, try to circulate throughout the  organization on a regular basis.  This is especially important when trying to generate support for a project or when you need input from colleagues, manager/directors or other stakeholders. But, it’s important not to feel entitled to anyone’s time. If someone is obviously occupied, politely stand aside and wait for the right moment or return at a later time.  People will appreciate it when you respect their time and space and will more readily give you their time when you come back.

4.  Distribute leadership and responsibilities

“Power” and influence are neutral energies. Over time, if they’ve been at it long enough, individuals or groups could come to acquire one or both. It is well known that power can corrupt, but the softer version of “influence” can cause burnout (people of influence are go-to people, which can take up a lot of their time and mental space). To avoid corruption and burnout, distribute leadership and responsibilities as much as possible. Share the tasks of writing letters and emails, facilitating meetings and circulating. The added bonus of sharing these responsibilities is the increased investment of others in the organization.

5.  Embrace the opposition

Every “battle” comes to an end. Sometimes a project or initiative you have proposed fails or never gains ground. Sometimes you win. Sometimes you lose. Don’t make anyone your permanent adversary. Someone who opposed your idea(s) in the past could one day become your greatest ally for an even better idea in the future. The most valuable thing about embracing the opposition, however, is not limited to maintaining a politically viable relationship for future endeavors. The simple fact is that sometimes the opposition is right. Listen carefully to the opposition in all circumstances. Even if you decide to stick to your position, their views will help inform you about the best way to proceed.

6.  Provide framing in difficult situations

As a manager/director or a community organizer, you will have developed relationships with a number of people from different sectors of the larger community.  At times, you may find yourself navigating divergent views and representing the entire spectrum of opinions around an issue, procedure or policy.  Because of your many relationships, you may able to provide the framing around an issue or decision because of the fact that you have all of the information and perspectives.  Whether you choose to take sides or to remain neutral about something, try to find a way to respectfully surface each point of view in an open forum. You can do this during meetings or in the writing of letters, proposals or memos. However you choose to proceed, frame all points of view in a clear narrative and connect them to the shared values, goals and vision of the  community.

7.  Gather input to make buy-in unnecessary

If you want a project or initiative to be successful, your colleagues and other stakeholders will need to know that you have consulted them every step of the way. Gathering information and input is the best way to generate support. People love to support projects in which they have served as one of its architects. This goes for writing, too. Jot down the phrases, metaphors and tidbits that you gather from those you’ve consulted and include them in the writing associated with the project. However small, staff input in the writing and framing goes a long way in shoring up support.

8.  Tell the truth always, but know your audience

Lying will get you nowhere and will erode your informal authority and influence in a New York minute. The fact that you were untruthful can circulate very quickly no matter how sophisticated you are in presenting a favorable image. If you have formal authority (such as a CEO, manager or administrator) you might have some more leeway here, but, in most cases, it is best to avoid deception and trickery.  Once you lose trust with people, it’s difficult to get it back.

However, be strategic about who you share information with. A gossipy colleague who enjoys ridiculing others may not be the best person to communicate with in certain situations. While maintaining transparency and stating your intentions are laudable goals, use caution, discernment and balance in your communications. Not everyone is an honest broker.

Always remember, too, that there will be circumstances that require confidentiality. Never repeat anything told to you in confidence. It will be regarded as a betrayal, and if word gets around that you betrayed someone’s confidence, nobody will trust you.

Finally -resist, resist, resist the temptation to ridicule others or to gossip about them. A “juicy” or entertaining piece of information might offer the satisfaction of one-upping a potential adversary in the short run, but it will sully your professional reputation in the long run. Besides, it’s mean, petty, and just plain wrong.

 

Tell the truth and be respectful always. As a leader with formal or informal authority, your reputation around issues of honesty and trust is the highest political capital you have. You don’t want to squander that.

9.  Respect that politics is often about perception

Five words. How will this be perceived?

The following bullet points will help you to navigate the stormy waters of the perception game.

  • Use language strategically and constructively. Avoid making absolute statements when possible by using the following words and phrases: might, may, could, possible, possibly, potential, potentially, commonly understood to be, general consensus that… When possible, make general statements about issues that commonly surface in the arena in which you are operating.
  • Connect your ideas and concerns with the organization’s mission as much as possible.  Try to avoid confusion by being explicit about your intentions in all matters.  When possible, connect those intentions with the intentions (purposes and goals) of the organization.
  • Share the credit and tasks of writing emails, letters, action plans and reports. This will help to maintain the collective spirit of personal investment among the organization’s leadership, workers and stakeholder partners.   It also keeps the focus on the organization and its goals, rather than on any single person.

10.  Don’t make it about “you”

Don’t take anything personally. You could be lionized as a hero, maligned as a phony, or tolerated as a nuisance. You might even  be ignored. No matter what, don’t make it about you and try not to let others make it about you. Of course, if someone expresses gratitude for something you’ve done, graciously accept it and walk on. Remember, everybody loves a hero, but not nearly as much as a fallen one. Don’t buy your own press. And make it about others.

The elegance and power of nonviolent talk

Good evening.

I discovered an article written by William Powell, the author of “The Anarchist’s Cookbook.”

The title is “I wrote the Anarchist Cookbook in 1969.  Now I see its premise as flawed”.

Powell argues for his book to taken out of publication and urges us to understand that “violence can’t be used to prevent violence.”

But, the same principle can be applied to the words we say, too.

Equally violent -and often a direct cause of physical violence- is the growing culture of mockery and deception, and the intentional distortion of the character and positions of those we consider adversaries.

This culture seems to be everywhere: the political arena, the playground, the workplace, the local pub, the media, the internet…. everywhere.

For now, cruel talk is king, and our celebration of it continues to poison the well.

Hopefully, there will come a day when the elegance and power of nonviolence will open up to include the way we communicate with our tongues and fingertips.

The impact on progress in politics, the office, and in all communities would be nothing less than remarkable.

IMG_9011

Personal development as primary value

An important idea suddenly struck me.

It happened just last night after a conflict-resolution process, in which I served as mediator… and only weeks after the sudden death of a person very dear to me.

Last night, at the end of one of these meetings, I came to the conclusion that the essence of a healthy community is the open commitment of its members to personal development.

Through the years, I’ve participated in a variety of communities, projects, and organizations, including public schools, rock bands, theatre productions, nonprofits, support groups, various workplace environments, and even local restaurants pubs.   From my experiences in these and many other social contexts, I have been able to observe a wide variety of outcomes.

What I can say with great certainty is this:

If personal development is not a primary value in a community, things always go badly.

 

A simple axiom for personal development is the willingness to think of ourselves as a work in progress.  To allow ourselves to experience the discomfort of being around someone we don’t like or don’t know.  To allow for ambiguity and the possibility that our position may not be entirely objective or even accurate.

The courage to be with discomfort and ambiguity gives us an opportunity to become more flexible, less rigid, and, thus more emotionally responsive.  This, in turn, increases our value to the community, because our flexibility makes it easier for us to respond more intuitively and more appropriately to situations that come about.

How does this work?

By keeping ourselves and those around us as an open question, we have a much better chance for accuracy in our understanding of what’s going on with us, with others, and with the situation.  And, for a community that has a specific mission, that accuracy matters.

But, it takes a certain amount of courage, because embracing discomfort and ambiguity can be painful and sometimes even scary or embarrassing.  It’s worth the effort, though, because when conflicts arise (and they always will), there is an opportunity for a community to resolve those conflicts, learn important lessons, and evolve.

Without a commitment to personal development, a community’s norms, policies, and legacy will fail.  Systems are a support, but maturity and awareness are the essential fuel. So, this is how I define personal development.

It is late at night, and I am about to get on a bus from New York City to Boston.

Screen Shot 2013-10-30 at 12.09.26 PM

 

The arts as potent meaning-maker

Good afternoon.

I’ve read this quote from Kurt Vonnegut before.

The arts in my own life, of late, has been a potent meaning-maker… aside from good people and their kind acts.

What I love most about my current projects is their inherent collaborative nature.  Working in the studio on recordings with my co-producer is like going into a magical workplace where mutual respect, creativity and vision is the order of the day.

It certainly helps that we and the musicians of Pragnus Gray Collective believe in what we are doing.

Nicely put, Mr. Vonnegut.

Kurt

Gratitude as renewable fuel

Good morning.

I’m grateful for the humanity I’ve seen from a lot of good people over the past several weeks, and wanted to re-post some thoughts I posted yesterday on Facebook.

I’ve noticed that people who feel genuine gratitude can’t help but to extend their well-being to others, using whatever resources at their disposal… whether inner or outer.

Their gratitude compels them to contribute to the happiness of other people without hesitation.

In this way, gratitude is experienced as a renewable fuel rather than a stored reserve.

I’d like to see more of this in the world.

Gratitude

Post tragic resilience

Good afternoon.

I got back to work today on a recording project called “Eleventh Hour Shine”.

The song we are working on is called “Hollowed by the Sun.” It’s about a male bee who is dying under the scorching sun, caught between a window pane and a screen.  It is one of a few songs on the record that deals with the issue of death awareness.

It has only been two weeks since the sudden death of a loved one, and it’s interesting that the song that was interrupted by death is itself about death and dying.

It was healthy to get back to the project, but I felt somewhat deflated and perfunctory as we proceeded.

But, there was progress. As they say in self-help circles, one day at a time.

*The photo below of two bees was taken by Anthony Lee.

Hollowed by the sun lyricsIMG_3936

Insights about “complicated mourning”

*Below is an excerpt from a Facebook post I wrote earlier today.

Good morning.

I am posting a link that explains about “complicated mourning” in the event of a sudden, accidental or traumatic death.

The link: Resources for Complicated Mourning

Speaking for myself, I would like people to feel comfortable bringing up this topic, and, at the same time I would like people to have at least a cursory understanding about how to relate to someone who has lost someone like this.

One of the insights found in the article is that survivors who experience a traumatic death of someone close to them almost immediately feel that everything they have been up to is trivial or even frivolous. So, perhaps this is one of those times in a person’s life when gentle encouragement to continue on with their own lives and interests can be pretty helpful.

Maybe you can ask me what I’ve been up to this past year.

If we run into each other somewhere, please feel free to acknowledge my experience (sorry for your loss), and give yourselves permission not to pursue a longer conversation if you are not comfortable doing so.

I will understand.

bflyb_glow

 

A British politician responds nonviolently to a pastor

*The following is something I posted on Facebook earlier this evening.

Good evening.

I don’t usually place my political/social views on Facebook, but I really have to say “wow” to this British politician’s response to a pastor’s question about gay marriage.

His response was thoughtful, reasoned, respectful and complete. I wish non-violent language were practiced more in the world, and particularly in our society.

This little clip gives me hope.

 

A song about compassion

Good morning.

Two days ago, I finished collaborating on the mix of a song I wrote for my mother, who has been singing rhythm and blues for four decades. The song is called “The Gospel of Longfellow” and is my first attempt at R & B.

The refrain in the piece is based on a quote by poet Henry Wadsworth Longfellow:

“If we could read the secret history of our enemies, we should find in each man’s life sorrow and suffering enough to disarm all hostility.”

 

I’ve always been touched by that quote (which Longfellow penned shortly following his wife’s horrific death in a fire).

I take it to mean that if we had access not so much to the content of another’s journey but to the inner reality of the person, we would see that he or she is not so different from us, after all.

We would see that the words and actions we have deemed unjust or evil are the person’s best attempts to achieve “the Good” according to the understanding and worldview formed by his/her unique life experiences.

Just like ourselves.

This is perhaps what empathy and compassion is about, and admittedly, it doesn’t come easily for me at times. But it helps to look at it all from this perspective.

Sort of warms up the inner atmosphere.

IMG_8975

Here’s to Oskar Schindler

Good afternoon.

Just watched the Spielberg film, Schindler’s List this morning. Seen it many times, but it’s been years since I’ve seen it, and today it moved me more than ever.

Oskar Schindler was a businessman who saved more than 1200 Jews in 1944, bribing Nazi officials into letting him keep his Jewish laborers for his munitions factory. These Jews survived the end of the war because of his courageous actions and have produced more than 7000 descendants.

Oppression, silencing and the arrogance of power-holders will always be with us. It will continue to show itself in families, government, artistic circles, schools, universities, and even online communities.

Those of us who remain cautious bystanders, silently supporting the “tall poppies” are making the right choice in many cases.

But, when we dismiss or take for granted the courageous actions of others, we are making the wrong choice. We can never know the great harm that often comes to them.

Or the great benefit we have received from them.

Here’s to Oskar Schindler.

http://www.schindlerjews.com/

forsideschindlerbillede