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.

 

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.


 

 

 

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.

 

 

 

What to Remember in the Middle of Change

Given that we’re always “in the middle of change,” a better title for this post might be simply, “What to Remember.”

Here are three rules of thumb to keep in mind for when you find yourself feeling pressed, pressured, confined or constricted by the persistent discomfort of change:

Lighten up. If you’re like me, in the middle of change you might just be holding on too tightly; to the past, to the known, to your need for control. You might also notice, should you glance at yourself in the mirror, that your face is full of intensity and effort, that you are actually wearing the strain of your discomfort rather than a countenance of ease and openness. Exercise more. Get some more sleep. Consciously breathe more. Laugh at yourself, at least a little. All of this helps.

Make friends. Do the opposite of your instinct, which is to close yourself off and go it alone. You do not have to pull yourself up by your bootstraps. (I do not have bootstraps and I doubt you do either.) That’s a bunch of bogus mythology intended to shore up the American fantasy of itself as “self made” rather than the less mythically appealing truth that we best deal with change by working together. (And by the way, exercise, sleeping, breathing, laughing…all better with friends.)

Stay curious. Learning is the only way. Open, attentive and ready to be surprised by the new is a radically vulnerable posture to take and one that is ultimately powerful. If only from a competitive perspective, whoever learns faster, grows faster. Beyond competition, it’s exhilarating to discover and actually explore new pathways and that very openness, right in the middle of change, will keep you light on your feet and ready to move.


DAVID BERRY is the author of “A More Daring Life: Finding Voice at the Crossroads of Change” and the founder of RULE13 Learning. He speaks and writes about the complexity of leading in a changing world.

10, 25, 45

I’m very interested in public speaking. I enjoy doing it and I enjoy listening to a great speaker. It’s a wonderful, even essential skill to develop for anyone who wants to have more influence, for those who wish to lead.

To that end, for those aspiring to increase their influence through public speaking, I’d like to suggest that you develop three talks of differing lengths; 10, 25 and 45 minutes.

Your 10-minute talk is one big idea supported by one story.

Your 25-minute talk is one big idea supported by two stories.

Your 45-minute talk is one big idea supported by two stories plus 5-7 minutes of audience conversation about how they feel about what you’ve been saying (because no one wants to sit for 45 minutes without a chance to talk…about themselves) and 5-7 more minutes devoted to their sharing of what they just said.

Two takeaways: first, you deliver one big idea, and only one big idea. Second, your talk isn’t about you, it’s about them. The longer you have to speak the more space you should create for your audience to do so.


DAVID BERRY is the author of “A More Daring Life: Finding Voice at the Crossroads of Change” and the founder of RULE13 Learning. He speaks and writes about the complexity of leading in a changing world.

Fire Dependent

 

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Multi-flowered grass pink orchid {Photo: Scott Hereford (USFWS)}

Jim Fowler is a gifted photographer who specializes in the native plants of the southeastern United States. His regular blog posts are a visual feast of plant varieties few of us will ever see in our lifetimes, and not just because of disadvantageous geography.

In Jim’s work, timing is everything. He relies on a network of fellow naturalists to tip him off about rare finds and he is known to pack his gear and head out at the drop of a hat when an extra special opportunity arises. His latest post tells the story of just such an adventure.

In it, Jim describes the achievement of a “bucket list” find, the Multi-flowered grass pink orchid. Here’s his description of the challenge of finding this rare species:

“…the orchid blooms only after a prescribed burn in the Pinus palustris or Longleaf pine savannahs of the national forest. Moreover, when it blooms, all of the flowers…open in one or two days, and they remain open for only a few days, making it difficult to photograph it unless one can be there during that brief period of time.” 

Did you catch that comment about the “prescribed burn”? Here’s more about what that is and why it matters from the website of the US Fish and Wildlife Service Southeast Region:

“One of the greatest conservation tools we use in habitat management of our refuges is prescribed fire. While fire is applied to reduce the risks of wildfires on our refuges and surrounding homes, it also encourages native plants and wildlife habitat. This rare orchid, the multi-flowered grass pink, is a perfect example. It is considered globally imperiled and critically imperiled in the State of Mississippi. It was discovered on the Mississippi Sandhill Crane National Wildlife Refuge following a carefully planned and precise controlled burn that was used to reduce the hazards of wildfires and improve the surrounding savanna grassland habitat. Like many plants of the savannas, this rare plant is fire dependent. It requires fire to stimulate flowering while reducing the brush to allow more light for the plant to grow.”

I am neither a naturalist nor a botanist, but I am passionate about how much we can learn from the natural world if we are just occasionally willing to slow down and pay attention. I am also passionate about the subject of change and the fulfillment of human potential and to that end I have come to the conclusion that if a “prescribed burn” is good enough for the rare flowers of the savannahs then it is good enough for you and me.

The way to find the very best of us – the rare and wild plant that is blooming within – is to get rid of everything else that’s in its way. This requires the heat of discomfort, the burning away of the ideas, perceptions, habits, attitudes, and reactions that hold us back.

What remains, once the smoke clears, is an interior landscape, at first scarred and vulnerable, but now loaded with the potential for extraordinary growth. This open space is just what’s needed to allow something new, something even more compelling, to take root and grow.


DAVID BERRY is the author of “A More Daring Life: Finding Voice at the Crossroads of Change” and the founder of RULE13 Learning. He speaks and writes about the complexity of leading in a changing world.