Remembering Who You Are

14 08 2017

This world has always needed leaders.  Men and women aware of both the time and need into which they were born and live.  The grace to lead well is given to some more than others.  Today, in ways like no other time that has preceded it, the world is looking for leaders.  Individuals who will show the way, who will stand up, even while feeling afraid, and give direction, security, competence and solace.

As I have grown older, I find that I am given strength and grace to lead.  What I don’t have is grace or good reason to cower, shrink away, idle away the hours and live for me.  My agenda.  My plans for a content life without taking those who know me into account.  “My World and Welcome to It” is a fine motto for a ‘60’s TV sitcom.  But it ill becomes a leader, who is supposed to embody–to one degree or another–selflessness.  Sacrifice.  It’s not about me.  Nor about you.

I’ve been struck over and over again by the children’s movie “The Lion King”, one scene in particular.  Simba, heir to Mufasa as king of the Pride Lands, has run away from his home and sphere of influence after the death of his father.  Afraid.  He takes up a worry-less, footloose-and-fancy-free existence.  Hakuna Matata.  No worries.

But the call of leadership will not let him rest.  His father appears to him in a dream and says, “Simba, remember who you are!”  Simba is afraid.  His dad is dead.  His uncle Scar, who killed Mufasa and is now ruling the deteriorating Pride Lands, intimidates him.

With the help of Rafiki, the sage mandrill, Simba gets his courage, his call, his appointed place, back.  He is a leader and has royal blood in him.  He cannot escape the role of destiny except at the peril of those counting on him.

So, he returns to the Pride Lands.  There he overthrows the illegitimate ruler, corrupt Uncle Scar.  And assumes his rightful throne upon Pride Rock.

People are counting on you.  You have what it takes to bring order, peace, direction and security to those who are watching and looking to you.  Remember who you are….

 

Suggested Resources:

Lead . . . for God’s Sake!: A Parable for Finding the Heart of Leadership (Todd Gongwer)

Lincoln on Leadership: Executive Strategies for Tough Times (Donald T. Phillips)

 

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The Cost of Leadership (A Rabbi/Therapist’s View)

8 08 2017

“Leadership through self-differentiation is not easy; learning techniques and imbibing data are far easier. Nor is striving or achieving success as a leader without pain: there is the pain of isolation, the pain of loneliness, the pain of personal attacks, the pain of losing friends. That’s what leadership is all about.” 

(Edwin H. Friedman)

Suggested Resources:

The Myth of the Shiksa (Edwin H. Friedman)

It’s Lonely at the Top! A Practical Guide to Becoming a Better Leader of Your Small Company (Oswald R. Viva)

 

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Minimize Future Regrets–Today!

18 07 2017

Jeff Bezos, founder of Amazon.com, is the third richest man in the world.  His net worth in 2016 was something like 85.1 billion US dollars.

Let’s go back in time.  The internet was about seven years old.  Jeff was a member of a quantitative hedge fund, the D.E. Shaw Group in New York.  He had a very good job.  He also had an idea.  His idea was to begin selling books on the internet.

He and his boss, D.E. Shaw, went for a two hour walk around Central Park.  Jeff was thinking seriously about leaving the Shaw Group and striking out on his own.  He presented the idea to his employer.  Mr. Shaw said, “I think it’s a great idea.  But not for someone who already has a good job.”  He asked Jeff to think about it for forty-eight hours before making his decision.

Jeff formulated his pending decision within a nerdy concept called a “Regret Minimization Framework.”  Summed up, it went like this:  Project yourself ahead into the future when you’re eighty years old.  Looking back, you ask the question “If I do X and I fail at X, will I regret having tried and failed?”  Answer: “No.”

Next question.  “If I don’t try X (and thus never know what could happen), will I have regrets?”  Answer: “Yes.”

Jeff moved to Seattle and started Amazon.

We know now just how successful his choice was.  But he could not have known what 2017 would look like way back in the early 2000’s.  Amazon is ubiquitous.  We all shop there.

Regret Minimization Framework.  A big term.  Summed up, what kinds of decisions can you or I make now that won’t leave us tossing and turning at night in the twilight years wondering what might have been?

For reflection:

  • What choices have you already made that have left you with definite regrets? What would you have done differently?
  • Do you have an idea, knowing ideas carry risk, that you would like to develop and see through? If you choose not to follow through on this idea, will you regret the missed opportunities and adventures which could have been yours as your life nears its end?
  • Are you aware, as JK Rowling said, that allowing fear to keep you from stepping out on your dream is ultimately to fail by default?

Suggested Resources:

The Everything Store: Jeff Bezos and the Age of Amazon (Brad Stone)

Think like Jeff Bezos: Making of an e-commerce business mammoth from yesterday for tomorrow : 23 life changing lessons from Jeff Bezos on Life,People,Business, Technology and Leadership (Jamie Morris)

 

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Deadlines Are Your Friends

30 06 2017

“No one owes you a reading.”

Ralph McInerny, late Professor of Philosophy at the University of Notre Dame, had a problem.  It was early 1964.  He had a growing family.  He had just purchased a house and found his teaching income from Notre Dame and a branch of Indiana University in South Bend was not enough to make ends meet.  “We…were overextended.”  What to do?

Ralph loved writing and usually wrote short stories for the magazines.  But he would get them rejected time and again.  He was thirty-four and decided to get serious.  He did so by setting a one year deadline.

“I decided that I would write for commercial markets, not just sporadically, but determinedly, every day, and keep at it for a year, after which if I had not sold anything I would admit to myself that I was not really a writer.”

That deadline forced Ralph to hone his craft within a specific time-frame.  His method caused him to focus, sleep less, make do with what space he could commandeer in the new house.  He put his family and teaching career first.  His writing would come after hours, having fulfilled his primary duties as husband, father and provider.

He set up a writing space on an old workbench in his basement.  He taped the sentence at the top of this post on the wall above the bench, a reminder of the need to keep pecking away at his typewriter and master the skill of creating an interesting story.  “No one owes you a reading.”

For the next year, from 10 at night until 2 in the morning, Ralph wrote.  And wrote.  And shipped product.  And continued writing.  And continued mailing manuscripts.  Eventually he learned what a story is and isn’t, where to cut fat that did not serve the story, the basics of plot, intriguing characters, etc. In short, the kind of writing that keeps readers coming back for more.

This one year deadline and the pressure of not being able to make ends meet served Ralph well.  He began selling stories and generating income.  His after-hours work on his second career was a good example of what in self-development circles is called “working the margins.”  You work during the day at your primary job but you use the time you have after work and obligations are met to develop your other vocation and, hopefully, earn extra income.

Ralph passed away in 2010.  He taught over half a century at Notre Dame, but he’s probably best known for his Father Dowling mysteries.  He wrote many other novels and philosophical works but he made his bread and butter writing mysteries.  And all because he set a one year deadline in his thirties and kept to it.

Questions:

  • How have deadlines forced you to stretch and develop in a way you could not have done otherwise?
  • Have you ever set a clearly defined goal with a time limit for its fulfillment?
  • Have you experienced the satisfaction of meeting deadlines that were set by your boss, noting how it showed you that you were capable of more than you believed?

Suggested Reading:

I Alone Have Escaped to Tell You: My Life and Pastimes (Ralph McInerny)

Getting Things Done: The Art of Stress-Free Productivity (David Allen)

 

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“Don’t Be Seduced By Low-Hanging Fruit”

10 12 2015

Avoid Low Hanging Fruit

Recently, I was reviewing some future vocational pursuits, and courses of study to prepare for them, with a mentor of mine.   He admonished me twice, “You must not be seduced by low-hanging fruit.”  He went on to encourage me to set vocational and educational goals that were neither too easy nor out-of-this-world in difficulty, but instead targets in which “you have to stand on your tiptoes to reach.”

That was a new twist.

My own human nature and the bent of our times drifts toward, even craves, things that require little or no effort.  Low-maintenance relationships.  Things you can “wing.”  Problem-solving that demands no more than easy, black/white, either/or solutions that don’t have to grapple with the complexities of our times and its issues, which are impatient of petty annoyances like nuance and clarification.  Or, better yet, long-term thinking.  (Current immigration debate and Donald Trump come to mind.)

The challenge for growth is something that requires stretching.  We all know this when we get to the gym.  But we tend to forget this once we’ve showered and leave the environment where sweat is accepted as part of obtaining the prizes.

What goals are you setting for yourself?  Do they cause you discomfort or are they well within your current competencies and are guaranteed to cause you little frustration?  Little effort can only yield small rewards.

These are necessary questions, because low-hanging fruit is cheap and easy.  But, you have to climb to get the good stuff.

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The Unescaped Life

8 12 2015

The Unescaped LifeThis is Seth Godin.

Yeah, he looks kind of quirky, yellow horn-rim glasses and all.  But he has a quote that eats at me every time I see it:

“Instead of wondering when your next vacation is, maybe you should set up a life you don’t need to escape from.”

 

Ouch.

 

We escape life in many ways.  Fantasy.  Substances.  Stuff.  Sex.  Sleep.  Netflix bingeing.  Care to add some others?

 

With the heart and simplicity of a child, this fifty-something thinker challenges us to challenge ourselves.  And the status quo (whatever “quo” is for you).  And “prevailing wisdom.”

One of his books on my shelf is entitled Poke the BoxHow can you not like that?

 

What does an unescaped life look like for you?

A mid-life career change doing something for more passion and less money?

Running a 5K race when you’ve never run anything?

Saying “no” for once instead of being a doormat?

Actually writing something longhand instead of typing or texting with calloused thumbs?

Or better, putting your not-so-smartphone away and actually having eye-to-eye communication with another person…undistracted, all emotionally naked-like (gotta be brave for this one)?

 

I dare you.  I dare you to craft a life you don’t have to put out of your head at 5:00 PM on Friday.

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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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