Beware the False Dichotomy

I read an article today that talked about the leadership challenge of navigating the difference between “wartime” and “peacetime” leadership.

It’s not a valid question because it’s based on a false dichotomy.

The distinction between “wartime” and “peacetime” suggests a dualistic, either/or approach to leadership. The discussion centered on working with the intersection of these divergent approaches – “What do I do when both are required? – but that only confirms the dualism of “two” approaches and that under “normal” circumstances you would practice one or the other which is, to put it mildly, hogwash.

Allow me to suggest that we think about this another way:

A leader’s impact, regardless of stability or crisis, is directly proportional to his or her dedication to the truth that leadership exists for the betterment of the human experience. Leadership is the moral responsibility to help other human beings work together to create extraordinary outcomes in the face of change.

When a leader is committed to this definition, dualism must go out the window. There is not “wartime” or “peacetime” leadership. There is, rather, human being leadership that always requires a few fundamental things: the preservation of dignity and respect; the vulnerability to have one real conversation after another; treating employees like adults; investing in their well-being as well as their achievement; clear goals and the resources to achieve them; the eradication of fear and the elevation of love.

With human being leadership, outside conditions are irrelevant. You’ve heard the wedding vow, “In good times and in bad.” Should I love my wife differently in the good times than I do in the bad times? Of course not. Leading a team is no different.

Lead them now, love them now, exactly how you would lead and love them at any other time. If you have to make a radical shift in your leadership practice because the wind has suddenly changed direction, you are doing it wrong.


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‘Essential’ is a Choice

Most of us don’t meet the government’s definition of “essential” when it comes to working the front lines of the response to the novel corona virus.

Most of us, that is, are deemed “non-essential.”

And we who are “non-essential” have been given a very short and manageable to-do list: wash your hands, stay at home and/or stay six feet apart.

But none of the “non-essentials” I’ve talked to feel like that’s “enough.” Most of them want to and are doing more.

You’re seeing it everywhere: acts of service, compassion, creativity, problem-solving, and helping hands. Educators, musicians, civil servants, service workers, neighbors, kids, from all walks of life, giving of themselves in innumerable ways and with epic levels of generosity.

These acts and these efforts, in all of their forms, are essential because they lift us up, give us hope, and remind us in tangible ways that we are all connected.

When we get through the worst of this crisis, it will be because the first wave of essential workers fought heroic battles to stem the tide of a terrible virus. It will also be because a second wave of people, those who chose to be essential, contributed their best selves to the effort, reminding all of us just how remarkable and just how powerful it is to be human.

This is the time to be essential.

Being essential is a choice.

Please do what you can.


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Poem for a Sunday Morning

The Peace of Wild Things
{Wendell Berry}

When despair for the world grows in me
and I wake in the night at the least sound
in fear of what my life and my children’s lives may be,
I go and lie down where the wood drake
rests in his beauty on the water, and the great heron feeds.
I come into the peace of wild things
who do not tax their lives with forethought
of grief. I come into the presence of still water.
And I feel above me the day-blind stars
waiting with their light. For a time
I rest in the grace of the world, and am free.


This is a poem I keep coming back to, its invitation and imagery profound and applicable in even the best of times. Right now, it resonates with even greater power because of how much fear and uncertainty is loose and alive in the world, loose in our minds and hearts.

I sometimes wake in the night between 2:00 and 3:00 a.m. As I turn restlessly in my bed, thoughts unfold in fearful, fast turning pages. I worry myself, not with those things over which I have control, but with those things over which I do not.

It is wasted energy, spent in the most vulnerable hours of the night, haunting in its purposelessness. Soon enough, I return to sleep but not without the presence of anxious shadows that join me in the light of a new day.

And, as much as I would love to go to “where the wood drake rests in beauty on the water” that’s not an option on most days. Instead, I find alternative ways to experience the freedom of presence and perspective; long walks with the dog, hikes that challenge my heart and legs, laughter around the dinner table, “checking in” calls with friends and colleagues and finding ways to be of use to those who are struggling more than me, more than us.

There is so much peace to be found, so much freedom from despair, but I remind myself that it will not find me, that I must go to it. Over and over, I must go.

Here is Wendell Berry, reading his poem.

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50 Ideas Worth Fighting For

I am happy to share the complete list of my “50 Ideas Fighting For,” that concluded today. I trust that these perspectives will be a valuable resource for you – a spark to inquiry and to conversation – and that you will pass them along to others who might benefit. I am thankful for your readership and very much look forward to remaining connected with you through this format and others as we work together to navigate this extraordinary and very challenging shared experience. 

With deepest gratitude,
David


50 Ideas Worth Fighting For

#1 – Read poetry

#2 – Change starts from within

#3 – Know Your Values

#4 – Know Your Strengths

#5 – Be courageous enough to name your aspirations

#6 – You Are Creative

#7 – Get Moving

#8 – Take a Break

#9 – You Don’t Fit in a Box

#10 – Development is a Verb

#11 – There is no “there”

#12 – Never Be Afraid to Reinvent Yourself

#13 – “I don’t know” is an acceptable answer

#14 – Tell the truth as fast as you can

#15 – You are the one you’ve been waiting for

#16 – You’ve got it better than you think

#17 – Root for other people’s success

#18 – Build Capability Before You Need It

#19 – Assume They Didn’t Understand You the First Time

#20 – It’s Ok to be “Good Enough”

#21 – Simplify

#22 – Time Alone

#23 – Get Closer

#24 – Empathy

#25 – Take Responsibility for Your Learning

#26 – Show Up

#27 – Mature Idealism

#28 – Leap

#29 – Little Things are Big Things

#30 – You Can Adjust your Default Setting

#31 – Satisfaction ≠ Engagement

#32 – What Power Is For

#33 – Originality

#34 – The Next Smallest Thing

#35 – Don’t Take Yourself Too Seriously

#36 – Look to Nature

#37 – Eat What You Want (It’s your birthday)

#38 – Competence

#39 – The Real Conversation

#40 – Explain About the Thread

#41 – Be Change Ready

#42 – Common Sense

#43 – Compassion

#44 – The Greater Good

#45 – Integrity

#46 – A Living System is a Learning System

#47 – Readiness

#48 – Letting Go

#49 – Vote

#50 – Forgiveness



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#50 – Forgiveness

The Prodigal’s Mother Speaks to God
{Allison Funk)

the straps of his sandals broken,
his robe stained with wine,

it was not as easy to forgive.

By then his father
was long gone himself,

leaving me with my other son, the sullen one
whose anger is the instrument he tunes
from good morning on.

I know.

There’s no room for a man
in the womb.

But when I saw my youngest coming from far off,
so small he seemed, a kid
unsteady on its legs.

She-goat
what will you do? I thought,
remembering when he learned to walk.

Shape shifter! It’s like looking through water—
the heat bends, it blurs everything: brush, precipice.

A shambles between us.


I am so grateful that #50 landed on a Sunday morning. I am so grateful to close this chapter of my writing with another poem, poetry having become such a profound consolation to me these last many years. I am so grateful to have fallen into the grace of this poem, one that encouraged and allowed me to conclude these “50 Ideas Worth Fighting For” with “forgiveness.”

Could there be an act both more vulnerable and more generous than that of forgiveness? Could there be a time – not in my lifetime – when forgiveness is both more necessary and more challenging? Could there be – might there be – a swelling of vulnerability and compassion that leads to more forgiveness as a result of this extraordinary, frightening time?

We are all connected which means that we, by the very definition of connection, are vulnerable to one another. We go to great lengths pretending that we are not but that is just not so. 

We will continue to trample on one another’s vulnerability, that is the human way. Which means we must continue to rely on forgiveness to restore ourselves into the loving embrace of those on whom we so rightly depend. 

We can begin by forgiving ourselves for whatever ways we feel we have failed, for whatever ways we feel ashamed, for whatever ways we have hurt another. In doing so, we can wrestle with the hard, hard truth that as we travel that inner journey of self-forgiveness we are building the capacity to forgive others and to help them return it. 

Forgiveness is imperfect, always incomplete and always ongoing. It is also the greatest gift we can give or receive.

Please forgive. That is all I ask of you.



To hear the brief and beautiful meditation on this poem that inspired me to share it with you, please visit Poetry Unbound.

 


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#49 – Vote

A little more than fifty days ago I decided to bring my daily blogging practice to an end. I decided to do so by using the final fifty days to write about “50 Ideas Worth Fighting For.” 

To be honest, I wasn’t sure I had 50 Ideas to write about but then I started making my list and they came easily. As the days went along, many from that initial list made the cut and many did not, as current events – personal, national and global – challenged me to think harder and harder about what I really believe in and what should be fought for.

In just seven short weeks the world has shifted so dramatically that it cannot and will not be the same again. Many of us haven’t felt the comfort of “normalcy” since the 2016 election. Our efforts to make peace with that outcome (with the rationale that the system will allow us to expunge the anomaly in four years) have been challenging at best, but here in year four the light at the end of the tunnel was finally coming into view.

And then the coronavirus changed everything. Not just because it is a once-in-a-century pandemic but because the ineptitude – perhaps even the criminality – of those sworn to protect the citizens of this country have led us into a crisis beyond description, the full scope of which will not be known for some time. We are needlessly stressing the entire infrastructure of the country, not to mention putting our most vulnerable citizens at risk, because of the greed and callousness of our failed leaders.

Does leadership matter? Ask your kids who won’t return to school this year. Ask the person just laid off from her job. Ask those confined to nursing homes who live each day in fear of infection without the comfort and care of family members not allowed to visit them.

Competent, compassionate leadership matters more than ever. And we see that kind of leadership at the local and state levels, as qualified people work tirelessly to respond to a crisis that their federal peers could have alerted them to much earlier and far more effectively. We see neighbors, co-workers, and complete strangers doing what they can to ease the burden of those within their reach because that’s the best of humanity coming through when those in power fail us.

I wasn’t planning to write about this today, but I have built an entire career on helping leaders become more effective in the face of change and we are witnessing the slow-motion train wreck of what happens when ineffective leaders have to face a level of responsibility for which they are tactically and morally unprepared.

What else could I write about, then?

I am disgusted, I am angry and I am so, so sad.

But what I feel even more strongly is the weight of my responsibility to do the following:

  1. Remain positive
  2. Control what I can control
  3. Be of service
  4. Show compassion
  5. Take care of myself
  6. Love my family
  7. Continue my work to build better leaders
  8. Vote

That’s it. So, that’s what I’m going to do.

What are you going to do?


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#48 – Letting Go

Of expectations

Of how it’s “supposed to be”

Of old hurts

Of waiting for other people to “get” you

Of old patterns

Of smallness

Of hoarding

Of dualism

Of negativity

Of waiting to be “picked”

Of isolation

Of separation

Of the facade

Of control

Of fear

Of silence

Of what no longer serves you, your family, your community

Let it all go and relish in the freedom of the release. What you needed then made sense…then. It doesn’t make sense to hold it anymore.

So, let it go.


This is #48 in the series, “50 Ideas Worth Fighting For.” Up for another?


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#47 – Readiness

I noticed from my second story window the trees swaying in the following wind of a passing storm. Billowing clouds raced across the sky as the trees bent and shook. I walked outside to get a closer look, to listen more closely and then I decided to get some of that beautiful action on video.

I lifted my phone and hit “record” when from down the hill my neighbor revved and raced his motorcycle to the top of the street. The moment was ruined so I stopped filming. He raced back down.

I started filming again. He raced back up. And on it went, our ridiculous collaboration, until I gave up.

It seems that we each have our own methods of diversion. It seems that we each have our own ways of engaging the world at a time when what seemed easily knowable no longer does.

I decided to come back later to catch the trees in motion, but the wind had passed, and only a trace of breeze remained.

Spring is here. It’s a transitional time, a borrowed time, where nothing is permanent, nothing certain. Like always, it’s a time of exploration and emergence. It’s a time of both weeds and flowers, rain and sun. It’s a time of trees and wind and motorcycles.

It is a time in which anything can happen.


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#46 – A Living System is a Learning System

“In biology, living and learning are synonyms, indistinguishable processes that keep life growing and moving forward. A living system is a learning system.”

 – Margaret Wheatley, “Who Do We Choose to Be?”


Living and learning are inextricably linked. You can’t live if you can’t learn. You can’t grow, you can’t fulfill, you can’t become, you can’t materialize, you can’t evolve. You can’t be.

What is so challenging and so frustrating about this interconnection is that we need to be reminded that it’s true. Not at the biological level, of course, but at the rational, executive-mindset level of being. We get stuck, entranced, entrenched, enchanted, enamored, beguiled, bewitched, completely consumed by what we’ve done before. And so we do it again. Even though it doesn’t work. Even though we know better. Learning something new simply overwhelms our distracted, safety seeking selves.

This week, in the midst of these extraordinary circumstances, we find ourselves forced out of our denial of the living/learning connection and into new ways of working, relating and providing. It is a strange and discomfiting reality, one that has so much to teach us if only we will allow it to do so.

Many have said, including myself, “How frustrating!”

But another response is also available to us. In the words of Ben Zander we could say instead, “How fascinating!” Instead of leaning away from learning, this response leans toward it. It leans toward and into an opening to curiosity, the deepening of empathy, the commitment to new forms of connection and compassion.

This time has so much to teach us. We will know we are learning when we replace our yearning to “get back to normal” with a yearning to carry forward the hard-won lessons of our shared experience.

“When thinking falters, a living system is at risk. If it continues unchecked, the organism dies. Think about it. Now you know what to do.”

 – Margaret Wheatley, “Who Do We Choose to Be?”


This is #46 in the series, “50 Ideas Worth Fighting For.” Here’s another piece you might find valuable today.

PS: If you are reading this on Facebook, I would like to invite you to go to my website to sign-up for direct delivery of my blog posts. I will be de-activating my FB account at the end of the month. Thank you!


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#45 – Integrity

“The more coherent one becomes within oneself as a creature, the more one fully enters into the communion of all creatures.”
{Wendell Berry}


When my daughter was in elementary school one of her classrooms had the following sign over the door:

THE DOOR OF INTEGRITY:
I am responsible for everything I think, say, do and feel.

In my memory of it I cannot help but recall Viktor Frankl’s challenge to us when he writes, “Between stimulus and response there is a space. In that space is our power to choose our response. In our response lies our growth and our freedom.”

And, I would add, in our response lies our integrity, the evidence of our more or less cohesive self.

How incredible that we get to choose! That we, alone among creatures, have the opportunity to reflect on our impulses and find even more effective ways to interact with the world. Wendell Berry reminds us that this effort is never for its own sake but that the deepening of personal understanding is at once the strengthening of connection with everyone and everything around us.

In these days of uncertainty, anxiety, simplicity and grounding may you access your deepest possible expression of integrity. And, however difficult it may be to swallow in the moment, may the aftertaste of personal responsibility be a savory accompaniment to the freedom you will have so rightly earned.

The best thing about the “Door of Integrity” is that however small it may seem, there is just enough room for all of us to squeeze through.

I look forward to greeting you on the other side.


This is #45 in the series, “50 Ideas Worth Fighting For.” Here’s a piece on organizational culture you might mind valuable today.

PS: If you are reading this on Facebook, I would like to invite you to go to my website to sign-up for direct delivery of my blog posts. I will be de-activating my FB account at the end of the month. Thank you!


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