A Failure of Nerve

7 12 2015

A Failure of NerveThe book you see above this post is simply the best book on leadership that I have ever read.  Ever.

I read a lot.  A great deal of what I read devolves in some way upon leadership–autobiography, biography, leadership as art and craft, critical leadership arenas, failures of leadership and so forth.  This is a rich field as there are so many great authors and leaders.  The usual suspects: Winston Churchill, Steve Jobs, Douglas MacArthur, John Maxwell, Seth Godin, Warren Bennis and political leaders ad infinitum.  I’m sure you could assemble your own list of leaders and leadership mavens and their writings.  (Matter of fact, please load up the combox with your suggestions!)

Edwin Friedman was a rabbi and therapist who did most of his work in and around Washington, D.C. up until his death in 1996.  The strength of his work (his entire corpus comprises five volumes, two of which were published posthumously) is that leadership is ultimately a function of the leader himself/herself (hereafter his/him for the sake of brevity).

A Failure of Leadership gets at the essence of good leadership.  The focus of this book is on a leader’s self-leadership, rather than leadership techniques, punch lists, alliterations and the like.   The leader sets the tone in any environment by 1) maintaining a non-anxious presence in the midst of anxious and emotional people, whether family, congregation, business or government and 2) practicing his own inner leadership as a self-differentiated individual; that is, one who is clear about his goals, vision, purpose and values and is able to hold to them in a steady way, especially when times are tumultuous and the tendency to herd rears its head and threatens to pull him into its toxic vortex.  The self-differentiated leader is moved by reason–namely, his goals and values–rather than emotional current.

There is so much more to this book in general and Friedman’s work in particular that we will explore in future writings.  Topics such as orienting towards adventure rather than safety, focusing on personal responsibility and challenge and not simply “feeling another’s pain” (empathy).  Fodder for later posts.

Buy this book.  He wrote it during the Bush (41) and Clinton years–years in which he described our country and culture as anxious and stuck.  One can only imagine his response to our own times with the challenges of the post 9/11 world and ubiquitous social media which, at best, is a mixed blessing.

Stick around.  There’s more!

Further reading:

Friedman’s Fables

Generation to Generation: Family Process in Church and Synagogue

The Myth of the Shiksa and Other Essays

What Are You Going to Do with Your Life? Unpublished Writings and Diaries
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Take COMPLETE Responsibility For Your Life

23 04 2014

responsibilityThe opening chapter of Jack Canfield’s fantastic book, The Success Principles, has this challenging title: “Take 100% Responsibility For Your Life.”

 
The chapter is worth the price of the book. Easy. It is slowly but surely changing my life. The concept will radically alter your destiny if you embrace it and practice it. And great mentors talk about this as the fundamental step that will reinvent your life. Jack Canfield. Stephen R. Covey. Brian Tracy. All attest the same.

 
100% responsibility.

 
Think about it. Aside from obvious things over which we have no control (planes crashing into our house, forms of disease, tornadoes, and such), we really have the marvelous opportunity and ability to craft a life.
To do this, you must become a good swimmer. Why? Because the current of our society flows against personal responsibility. It has strong undertows of victimization, blame-shifting and an unrealistic sense of entitlement. And it has kept leaders from emerging. You must swim against it. And you are well able to do it.

 
I heard Brian Tracy once say that assuming complete responsibility for our lives is the mark of adulthood. It means being a grown-up. As kids we long for that moment. Now, we can maximize all the possibilities.

 
Here are some challenges for the coming days:

 
• Every day embrace the reality that you have the God-given ability to better your life and circumstances in some way. Viktor Frankl learned this in Hitler’s death camps. He realized that the Nazis had no power whatsoever over his thinking and inner life. Unless he gave it to them.
• Every day work to improve your skills of attention, concentration and laser-like focus for whatever task you happen to be doing. Be all there. Be fully in the moment. If it isn’t worth doing with all your being, is it worth doing at all? I did this last night as I walked for two miles in the bone-chilling cold air of winter. I embraced the frozen air and punishing wind. And became stronger because of it. I enjoyed it and improved my physical and mental life as a result.
• Write down your goals. There’s something about putting pen to paper that sets a course in motion within you towards the fulfillment of those goals. Your subconscious mind engineers reasons and plans for achieving what you’ve set as a target. Dream it, write it and be very specific. And then work your plan.

 
This is your moment. Hold nothing back.

 
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Preparation: Key to Overcoming Fear

25 11 2013

Winston-Churchill-Flashing-Victory-SignAbout twenty years ago, I read a fascinating book–The Sir Winston Method–by James Humes.  At the time, I was doing a fair amount of public speaking.  The book, an exploration of Winston Churchill’s speaking techniques, was apropos.

One practical bit of information I gleaned from this book was this: The way to overcome the fear of public speaking is to know more about your subject than anyone else in the audience.

Hmm.

It is fairly well-known that there are a lot of people in our world who fear getting up in front of people and speaking more than death itself.  Fear of humiliation.  Fear of unpreparedness.  It is quite potent.

I’ve learned that when I do my homework, when I have put myself through the paces, when I own my subject–I am far more unafraid.

Here’s the challenge:  Prepare.  Put in the time and effort to know your topic.  I mean really know it.  Anticipate the arguments and objections.  Indeed, shoot holes through your subject before anyone else can.  Know the weaknesses, the tenuous spots, and strengthen them.

Watch fear dissipate!

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A Crime On the Streets of Dallas

21 11 2013

Dealey-Plaza-CarolFifty years ago tomorrow, I was in an Omaha hospital, fighting for my life.  I was born with a gastro-intestinal defect—pyloric stenosis.  My family thought I would die.  I was baptized in the hospital and given extreme unction.

Tomorrow, we remember the murder of the 35th President of these United States.

I was born one month before President John F. Kennedy was murdered.  On the street in this photograph.  Elm Street.  Dealey Plaza.  Dallas.  Most Americans, even if they’ve never been to Texas, have been to Dealey Plaza many times over courtesy of the Zapruder film.

A few years back, my work took me in early June to downtown Dallas.  I stayed in the famous Magnolia Hotel.  It was unseasonably hot, even for Texas.  When I arrived in the afternoon, I determined that I would walk the eight blocks or so to this busy and strangely macabre site where our country was altered forever.

Dealey Plaza is virtually unchanged since that awful November morning 50 years ago.  Perhaps this is by design of Dallas city government and zoning officers.  I felt quiet and a tad eerie as I sat on a bench on the grassy knoll, within the shadow of the old Texas Book Depository building, now housing the Sixth Floor Museum.

It is a small area, this plaza.  On the pavement of Elm Street, there are “X’s” painted in the center of the road.  Two of them.  One for the shot that wounded both the President and Governor John Connelly.  And one for the shot that took from America her Commander-in-Chief.  And her innocence.

The day after my visit to the Plaza, I joined some colleagues for dinner.  We drove through Dealey Plaza, right on Elm Street.

Right over the spot where the 35th President of the United States was assassinated.

It was entirely pragmatic.  We were not tourists.  Elm was the shortest route to get to our restaurant. But it felt wrong.  Like playing soccer in St. Peter’s Basilica.  The area is not sectioned off, bollards guarding the motorcade route against profanation by cars, trucks and buses.  It’s a regular thoroughfare, used every day.  And yet it is sacred.

Life and death take place in the ordinary and the mundane.  This is the rule.  What kinds of normal places have you been to that have been made special by either tragic or heroic events?

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Band of Brothers and Why Vets Deserve More Than A Day

11 11 2013

Band of BrothersThere it sat, under the table beside my reading chair, for about eight months.  Encased in tin, the kind that made up the lunch boxes I carried to school every day when I was a boy.

“You’ve gotta watch this.  It’s fantastic,” my best buddy said as he handed the embossed aluminum case to me, a treasure of his now in my care.  Another good friend raved over it.

For some reason, the impetus to pop one of the DVD’s into my laptop escaped me throughout the Summer.  I wasn’t really interested.  I suppose there is a time and season for all things, including books and video.

Nine days ago, I popped the first of six DVD’s into my laptop.  It was a cool, lazy Saturday.  Why not give these a try?

In ten minutes, I was in.  Hooked.  I had to watch this set.  I told my wife about them and we settled in for a two-day marathon remembering World War II in film.

Band of Brothers is an HBO mini-series, first broadcast in 2001, chronicling the training and combat experience of Easy Company (part of the 506th Parachute Infantry Regiment, 101st Airborne Division) from their training in early 1944 at Camp Toccoa, GA, through the Allied Invasion of France to the end of the War in Europe, 1945.  It is based on the book Band of Brothers by Stephen Ambrose.

It was made under the executive direction of Tom Hanks and Steven Spielberg.  With Spielberg at the helm, I knew it would be good.  I was not disappointed.

Early in the first segment, one of the original members of Easy Company recounts how a handful of guys from his hometown committed suicide because, for different reasons, they were barred from enlisting and couldn’t fight for their country.

It was a different time altogether.

Today is Veteran’s Day.  We honor those who fought for freedom; fought against toxic and enslaving ideologies; fought for something greater than themselves.  All sacrificed.  Many paid with their lives.

There are simply not enough days in the year to honor our soldiers.  Do yourself a favor.  No, do yourself two.  Watch Band of Brothers.  Better yet, thank a vet who fought to help you and I enjoy the freedoms we take for granted.

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The Book of Lights and Tough Ethical Questions

13 10 2013

The Book of LightsI’m currently reading a book by Chaim Potok, author of my favorite novel, The Chosen.  This particular book, written in 1981, The Book of Lights, is set in Korean War-era New York City near historic Riverside Church and Grant’s Tomb, Korea, and Japan.

The main protagonist, Gershon Loran, has been ordained into the rabbinate and conscripted into the service after the armistice has been signed.  He is a somewhat melancholy and, at the same time, brilliant and reflective man who is particularly enamored with the study of Kabbalah–the books of Jewish mysticism.  He is haunted by visions.

His roommate, Arthur Leiden–also a rabbinical student and future rabbi, is a curious figure.  He is a conflicted man, often drinking too much and coming to class unprepared (and drawing upon himself the kind of ire that was standard for teachers towards lazy students a generation ago.)

Arthur is conflicted as well because his father, a physicist, was involved in the creation of the atomic bomb.  Albert Einstein, Harry S Truman, Leo Szilard and Enrico Fermi are all colleagues of Arthur’s father and figure into the story.

The book, a predictably thoughtful story, forces the reader to examine the moral import and consequence of developing weapons of mass destruction and its consequences for those who bear the weight of such a dark legacy.

I am about half the way through this novel.  Potok is a masterful writer.  He understands the human psyche and Jewishness (in which he was both raised and trained).  Read this and his other works.

And reflect.

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Gandhi on First Things

8 10 2013

95e39/huch/1887/3“Let the first act of every morning be to make the following resolve for the day:

– I shall not fear anyone on Earth.
– I shall fear only God.
– I shall not bear ill will toward anyone.
– I shall not submit to injustice from anyone.
– I shall conquer untruth by truth. And in resisting untruth, I shall put up with all suffering.” (Mahatma Gandhi, 1869-1948)

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