Shaped, and Shaped Again

“We shape our self to fit this world and by the world are shaped again.”
{David Whyte}


fullsizeoutput_24fcThere is a dance we all must do. It is the dance of forming ourselves well enough to meet the requirements of our lives while also allowing ourselves to be formed by those same forces.

Those requirements, those forces, are not static, linear or concrete. Those forces are dynamic and fluid, most often we call them other people.

It is a deeply vulnerable act to willingly, as an accomplished and self-assured adult, allow others to use the tools of their dynamic selves to transform our own soft clay into something even more beautiful.

To trust the possibility of that happening is to trust those people, first of all. And as we know, that only happens when we create the space, the time and commit the energy to building a reservoir of trust that is filled by our mutual offerings.

A question to consider is this: do I allow myself to remain soft enough that I am able to be formed? And another: do I cultivate relationships with people whose forming power I can deeply trust and who are open to receiving my own?


Offered with affection for Tom, Molly, Kyle, Alia and Theresa.

Love and Leadership

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If we choose to think of love as a “state of being…a state of grace…in the tough and universal sense of quest and daring and growth” as James Baldwin challenges us to do, we place ourselves dangerously close to the realization that our capacity for love is proportionate to our capacity to lead.

What is leadership if not the ability to help oneself and others navigate the complexities of change? What is it if not the ability to live at the edge of our understanding and to help others function well in the discomfort of learning?

And what but love allows us to enter into the real conversations necessary to be in those places? What but love strengthens our vulnerability to stay in a place of not knowing long enough to let the next step emerge?

If you have been loved in this way, you have been led. And if you have been led in this way, you have been loved.

It is not only that “leadership and learning are indispensable to each other,” as President Kennedy said. It is that leadership and love are indispensable to each other and that learning is the fruit of that sacred tree.


Thank you, Carol Pate, for sharing this photo/quote with me.

 

Brokenness Aside

broken tree growth

Please look at the upper left section of this photograph. Please notice that the branch you see in the foreground is the same branch that has not quite snapped off of the tree. Please also notice that this broken limb is sprouting many healthy shoots, new branches well on their way.

This branch is not whole but it remains connected. And the connection that remains is enough to provide the nutrients necessary for new growth.

You are broken in places, and I am too. Our breaks do not define us unless we choose to let them. Our breaks, if we let them teach us, make us more resilient and more committed to find a way to grow, to make life happen in ways we could not have otherwise imagined.

Do not lose heart in the presence of your brokenness. Take comfort; this is your moment to shine.

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Personal Mission

The quote and question after which I titled my first book is, “Are we not safer leading A More Daring Life?”

The motto of the Society of Jesus (the Jesuits) is AMajorem Dei Gloriam, meaning “For the Greater Glory of God.” I first learned this phrase in college, at Loyola Marymount University.

When combined, these two phrases form the statement of my personal aspiration:

To lead a more daring life for the greater glory of God.

I know that I am meant to become the fullest possible expression of myself, using the gift of my very life, as well as my innate and developed abilities, to make a positive difference in my family and community.

I know that I am not meant to play it safe, but to venture inward, exploring the territory of myself, and outward, exploring the territory of relationship and learning, in order to risk and to grow. And to always do so in service of something larger than myself, both terrestrial and spiritual.

I cannot say that I have achieved this because I remain a work in progress. I can say that I aspire to this, knowing that my failures are another opportunity to learn. I would rather fail attempting to live up to a high standard, then to set it so low that I guarantee my “success.”

Today is yet another day to lead a more daring life for the greater glory of God.

AMDL/G


 

What is school for?

Patrick Lencioni, author of The Five Dysfunctions of a Team, put out a blog post this week called “Three Things Graduates Need to Know.” It’s his “two cents of advice…for preparing for the world of work.”

His three big ideas are worth repeating here, not only under the banner of “graduation advice” but as a way to answer the question, “What is school for?”

Our most thoughtful institutions of higher learning understand that they are in the business of providing rigorous academic instruction while also creating an environment in which students are challenged and expected to:

  • Develop an ethic of hard work.
  • Learn social skills, especially emotional intelligence.
  • Learn humility (That is, to add some wisdom to their stores of knowledge).

When this happens, if it happens, the downstream effects are positive and potentially profound for them and for the organizations they join. When it doesn’t happen, that learning still may occur in the early (mid?) stages of one’s career, but it is a much bumpier road and likely a less forgiving one.

Students, parents, faculty, staff, mentors and advisors – anyone invested in the best possible outcome of our educational endeavors – will be well-served to remember that success is one (small) part subject knowledge, and three very large parts work ethic, humility and emotional maturity.


 

Leader, Heal Thyself

Any pain that remains unhealed in our hearts usually ends up getting projected onto others.

If you are in a position of influence this may mean that you abuse your authority, create unrealistic expectations, berate team members, withhold information, feel threatened by other’s success, or regularly operate in passive/aggressive mode. All of these are outward manifestations of internal disquiet.

When I describe leadership as an “inside job” or encourage leaders to “start within,” I am talking, first, about getting honest about what is unhealed and getting down to the very serious business of healing it.

Until that work is begun, even our “best and brightest” will suffer the vulnerability of insufficiency and either avoid responsibility due to a fear of failure or accept it without the humility required to be of service to those they lead.


 

 

 

Keep Showing Up

I have a few different “accountability” gatherings I participate in each month. “Accountability” isn’t a great word for them but it will have to do for now.

These are individuals and small groups with whom I have established an intimate and trustworthy rapport and from whom I receive both the space and the grace to rely on it. I expect and am expected to actually “show up” in these encounters, to enter into conversation that is revelatory for the purpose of personal learning and group cohesion.

We strengthen the integrity of our relationships one layer of authentic interaction at a time. And it is in that way that these are “accountability” gatherings. We are not looking for the best from one another, we are just looking to bring out what “is” right now and learn from it.

What I have learned in the 15 years of participating in these kind of conversations is that it is when I least feel like attending that I most need to.

Just last week, a few hours before one of these gatherings, I made a quick mental list of all of the reasons I could and should cancel. What I was struggling to admit to myself is that I didn’t want to talk about “what is right now” because I was feeling lost about what to do about it. I didn’t want to feel that lack of control in an explicit way so I considered going for the escape hatch.

But I didn’t open it and I am so, so thankful that I was able to right myself, show up as planned and receive the extraordinary benefit of a listening ear and some thoughtful questions.

Avoidance and resistance are the key ingredients in the recipe we call fear. It’s not one we have to make, tempting though it may be to do so. And to be reminded of that, yet again, by people who truly care about my well-being, marks another humbling step on the path of my life.


 

Must be present to win

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Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

The longer I think about it, practice it and teach it, my philosophy of effective leadership gets simpler and simpler.

A deep commitment to self-awareness, a wholehearted approach to relationships, a lifelong pursuit of learning; these are all hallmarks of great leaders.

And none of that matters if the leader isn’t present in the first place.

Step one: you must show up.

You can’t “phone it in.” You can’t commit in words and not in actions.

This is stupidly obvious and self-evident and, yet, the absent leader – the “leader” in name only – remains a reliable cause of organizational failure.

 

The Illusion of Control

You’re at the beach, building a sand castle. You’ve strategically started to build where the water only comes to within 10 feet of your construction.

You dig a nice deep moat to catch the rare, tidal surge but your site remains protected from the waves.

You build higher and wider, packing muddy sand onto muddy sand, buckets and shovels full at a time. Small and large hands aid the work, details taking shape, underground passages collapsing on themselves only to be dug out again.

The water creeps closer. Energies are diverted to deepen the moat and reinforce the water-facing walls. They hold for now.

And slowly, though you have won many battles along the way, you are losing the war.

And you knew this all along. You knew that you were racing time, and you built anyway. You made your best attempt; you dug and diverted your way to a creation that was good enough, here and now, knowing full well what was coming.

Everything is built on sand. Everything passes away. In the face of impermanence, in that moment of acceptance that control is an illusion, to give your very best is an act of courage and resilience.