Sunday, November 25, 2012

Research Methods (Semester Summary)

Research is a lot more than reading or taking miniscule measurements in a laboratory; research amongst social scientists provides scholars and average citizens alike a better understanding of how we operate as humans. With that in mind, this class has been a great adventure albeit on shaky legs. purpose of this class was to design an ethical research project--researcher's choice. To me that is a bit like this photo. The goal is framed but the vastness of the ocean beneath the calm waters belies the magnitude of the project.  The main components of this project were to choose a topic of interest, develop a research question and dig into the literature to uncover what others have already done.  Finally the researcher would devise ethical ways to measure the question and submit the proposed research package for a final grade. No research was to be conducted during this class.

Although I could see other sailboats exploring the ocean I was never close enough to them to feel I had any answers to satisfy my curiosity. At the same time I became more engrossed in my topic of silence and less interested in immediately (or arbitrarily)  assigning an intellectual value for measurement purposes.  It's no secret the class is too demanding for the time allotted and I can live with that. The interesting part is that I do not feel I am anywhere near complete learning on the topic of silence or research. At present I would rather be silent on research methods than violate the truths of silence (finding my own truth in silence) and reflection.  

Friday, November 23, 2012

Research Strengths

In my last post (so long ago) I was trying to discover just what research was--my own in particular.  I was supposed to learn research by reading others' research. Now that the class is over I feel slightly more knowledgeable than when I started. However I do wonder if a coherent presentation of what research is is available.

I recently attended a health conference where speaker Daniel Vitalis mentioned when he was learning tough subjects he loved the Complete Idiot's Guides and children's coloring books on the particular subject.  I rather fondly know why these are choice resources for intelligent articulate adults who want to quickly assimilate information (however the research guide is reportedly not savvy enough for graduate students). So, in my own idiot-fashion I am presenting research strengths (or why we should conduct research).

Research Strengths:

  • A centralized storage for past, present and current thoughts on a subject
  • Identifies gaps in current research 
  • Meticulous overview and measurement of very narrow topics 
  • Easy to reproduce and test for yourself
  • Opens dialogue between many diverse thinkers
  • Helps the writer and researcher thoroughly understand a topic
These are the topic strengths I pulled out of the process. I chose a bit of a radical topic which I am still learning about. With all good research there are no easy answers, only approximations. I can say I am closer to understanding my topic but after the confusion of this class I may need more time off to assimilate all that I learned while reading, reading, reading. 

Sunday, October 14, 2012

Research Limitations

As I round the corner and head for home I feel Methods in Research has been a bittersweet experience for me.  It's no secret this is a tough class with too much expected in too little time. Compound that task with teaching through independent learning, uncertain feedback from fellow students and late-in-coming instructor comments which tell rather than show and the end result feels like an exercise in futility. 
Once I blew past the useful but dry text I realized I had to conduct a literature review, write a research proposal and organize it in a creative way. Top that heavy load off with patchy information on how to do all of this and I realized I was already up a creek looking for a paddle. I thought this was about as much fun as teaching myself how to juggle. When is the right time to throw in that third object? I can feel it, but I can't explain it. And apparently neither can anyone else.  As I fixed lunch yesterday I thought if this research project was an exercise in intellect (like fixing a recipe) it could probably done fairly easily for it would merely be structuring puzzle pieces which already exist. But I chose graduate school based upon something I am passionate about and were I to lose heart and allow the intellectual process to dominate my learning; I would learn very little and care even less.

My research topic has been silence. In the past I could withdraw into silence with practiced ease. It is no discomfort for me to remain silent. Sometimes my retreats were petty and other times it seemed like a better idea to allow the other person to vent their anger without interruption. However in both cases my silence seems to hurt others and leave me untouched. So I wanted to use this time to find a positive way in which silence could be chosen. 

I felt similar sense of frustration when I graduated from college. My major was English and all my life I loved reading. I came to the point in undergrad that I promised myself I could quit reading after I graduated. After I gradated and separated myself from that program I found I still loved to read.  Now I find I truly enjoy the thrill of research but perhaps this online format is the pits. Perhaps it is academia and I which do not agree.

In undergrad I only filled out end of the class surveys for classes I liked. Yep, all those mean (art history), harsh (history of Japan) and mediocre teachers received nothing from me. I highly value insightful feedback and, for me, it takes a lot of effort to think about and articulate it. So I have a working philosophy of only spending my time and energy on the things I want more of.  I haven't filled an end of the class survey out since the third class in this program.

Once I saw it was me who had the issues with the program format that no amount of feedback would change, I could not see the point in repeating myself. In silence I have had to come to grips with my dissatisfaction with parts of this program. In silent reflection I have learned the limitations of an online class teaching research methods. In silent reflection I have realized research methods may not have as much meaning to me as practical life applications. I mentally debate with myself which course of silence is healthy. I wonder, if in deliberate silence I will learn more than silent teaching has ever taught me.

Sunday, October 7, 2012

Murder(ous Thoughts) and Meditation
"It is a thin line that separates us from these people who stare at us from inside this cage. The same thing that does not go beyond the threshold of our thoughts have crossed, in their case, the threshold of action. But still we are alike, inside our heads we are all potential criminals" from Doing Time, Doing Vipassana.

 Through much of this graduate program I have sought an answer to who is responsible for the ugliness in organizations.  Is it, in the case of prison the criminals behind bars who maintain aggressive stances to survive? Or is the prison responsible through inhumane treatment to maintain control over agitated, aggressive prisoners?  Of course I've come to realize a complete answer is not available (because it always depends), instead we can only develop a better understanding of the organization and its people. 

Doing Time, Doing Vipassana is a fascinating study that reminds us: "We are all prisoners undergoing a life sentence, imprisoned by our own minds. We are all seeking parole, being hostages of our anger, fear and desire." The film literally shows us how to transform some of the most desperate members of society through sitting in silence. This practice of sitting in silence was replicated in a U.S. documentary 10 years after the first film. I recommend seeing both Doing Time, Doing Vipassana and The Dhamma Brothers to see the power of transformational silence. 
Doing Time, Doing Vipassana from Enlightening Eight on Vimeo.

Through my pursuit to understand silence I have learned to appreciate those who fear silence. For in silence we can no longer run, we must face our true selves. We cannot escape our problems, our responsibilities, our mistakes. Even knowing this, I still study silence; for their is an even greater reward to sitting in silence. That reward is we are not likely to choose or sustain murderous thoughts.

Monday, October 1, 2012

Silence as a Weapon

It has been difficult for me to write this post.  I have learned so many wonderful, positive aspects to silence and that is where I would like to focus. However, when I mention silence to others I am usually bombarded by the person's historical pain from one silent "treatment" or another.  Somewhere along the line of human development silence has crept in the arsenal of human warfare.

Is it an issue of authority?  On the first day of school a child begins to learn to silence her voice.  When you break a rule you are banished to a time out zone, to remain silent. The school librarian is perhaps the most famous shoosher, followed closely by the movie buff.

As an adult if you break the law and are sent to prison your voice is silenced and if you break prison rules you will be sent to solitary confinement. Prison gangs and thugs dominate prison yards, cells and floors; silencing other inmates.

Ok, I'll admit the preceding paragraph is based upon observations of documentaries.  But Western society has long publicly celebrated the strong, silent type male and spread the myth that women talk too much.  It is true silence hurts, even when it is not intended as a weapon.

My Reincarnation PosterI recently saw a documentary called My Reincarnation. It was a familiar father son story. Yet unfamiliar because of the reincarnation twist. The son was a recognized reincarnation of the father's uncle. The son grew up in Italy (watching a Tibetan talking with his hands Italian-style was very amusing) and outside of Tibetan culture. The father taught outside the home and around the world; he was greatly appreciated by the community and the son felt disconnected from his father.  The son's main issue? His father did not answer many questions and the son could not understand his father's silence.

Is the silent person the abuser? What responsibility does the other individual hold to interpret silence? Of course it is more complicated than that. Only one truth seems to hold me for further study: evaluate the motivation behind silence before ruling it a weapon.

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

Silence to Purify the Self

As I work through the mandatory text book chapters which seem little more than narrative links of one dictionary definition to another, I've needed to take regular breaks to clear my cloudy thoughts. At work I've had several conversations with colleagues which have made me see some people navigate the organization like it is a game. I'm not sure which is worse! But as I examine these topics for a commonality I find they have one thing in common: they are mind-numbing through noise.
It's true not all text books are best selling page turners (and I admit this text does inject interesting studies frequently) but when I started graduate school I knew there would be times I had to push through areas to grow and get to the other side of the road. By the way the chicken made it just fine. Another side of me screams NOOO when I hear a person in a leadership position spend a great deal of time telling me how messed up the organization is and then say: "I get paid decent money and life is fine in the organization if I just do what I'm told."

While I am willing to sacrifice a couple of hours to boring parts of a text book and not put up a fight--I am not okay with selling myself out to the long term support of the status quo. At times I am greatly frustrated because I do not know what I can do to make a difference in organizations where people (in my opinion) have sold out. I know many people who feel frustrated in a similar way yet choose to withdraw from the situation and nod with absent eyes until the situation improves. This is one of the reasons why I think I find organizational silence to be so interesting. Because I believe the individual can heal when she chooses to take responsibility for her self development. Allowing others to silence us is not healthy.

Front Cover
Finding silence and allowing it to heal us is healthy. One story I am reading is about Yolande Duran-Serrano in the book "Silence Heals." Her observations have helped me see how noise disconnects me from myself. "I have the impression that the tiredness, the loss of energy that used to occur in the past, comes from identifying with the agitation. We believe our thoughts. We take part, agree, disagree, become anxious, react. We say I want it, I don't want it, we predict we calculate."  For me I need to disconnect from the agitation of others--they do not define me. Instead, I need to get in touch with what is right for me.

Duran-Serrano describes one way of doing this, "And then there is the delicious flavor of silence; a constant sweetness. There is no longer a voice judging, condemning, subduing, draining energy. And even if from time to time a thought occurs, it is so sweet--it leaves a feeling of lightness." So practicing silence can restore my energy, it can purify me from negative thoughts and it can help me realign to myself.

Sunday, August 26, 2012

In Pursuit of Silence

As the last few strands of sunshine in summer break trickle through my fingers I am preparing myself for my next class. I have three classes to complete the program and I apparently saved some tough ones for the end.  In my next class, Methods of Organizational Research, in part, we conduct a literature review.  I was advised by a classmate to have my research question ready before I started the class. My search for a question started with organizational silence. Although I do not have a perfect research question a scant breath or two before the class starts I have delved into silence.

Originally I read about how silence can crush an organization--and there is plenty of literature on that, but I came to sharpen my focus on the benefits of organizational silence. Can the organization thrive in the midst of silence? When is silence appropriate? What does silence mean to the individual who practices it? Obviously I have a lot of questions but few answers. I think that is one of the most promising feelings I have before each class. I know I will emerge more comfortable and confident with the topic and I will (in sometimes the most unpredictable ways) have applied the concepts in a way which deepens my gratitude for the knowledge.

In an earlier post I became interested in John Francis and his 17 year vow of silence. In preparation for this class I just finished "The Ragged Edge of Silence: Finding Peace in a Noisy World." In truth much of the book seemed more than I expected about being silent so we can become better listeners. Even so, I did pick up a gem when Francis' father spoke the words which seem to dig into some of the issues that interest me: "After the [Master's] ceremony my dad came back to my apartment and asked, 'How do you do that? How do you walk into a town that you never been in before and bring all these people together without even saying anything? How do you do that? I really want to know."

Considering his father had uttered the most discouraging words amongst his family, it was great to see the father find value in his son's unusual methods of living in the world. In response to his father, Francis writes, "I looked at him. And in the looking I thought about all the words I would have said--or could have said--about how it is not so much what we say without lips, but what is in our hearts, and how we all long for that kind of straight talk. When we can listen with our hearts, there is nothing that we cannot do together. And how do we listen with our hearts? The answer is with love: talking straight from the heart." This advice, of course, is wonderful. But as I just stepped into this topic I have some work to do to find out how to apply this in an organization.

Friday, August 24, 2012

More on Forgiveness

I had lunch with a friend the other day and we began talking about forgiveness. My friend did not buy my graduate-school-developed  perspective that forgiveness is something which should be given when the individual is ready whether the perpetrator has requested it (or is aware of it) or not . In fact he said, is that what forgiveness means? I thought about the meaning a lot and looked more closely at the word, in pieces.

For.  Give.

Oh--I thought it is a gift for me, the perpetrator, for all.

Forgiving Dr. Mengele PosterOne amazing Auschwitz survivor says: "Forgiveness to me means that whatever was done to me is no longer causing me such pain that I cannot be the person I want to be." In Leadership, Justice and Forgiveness we read Simon Wisenthal's book The Sunflower. In it provided the cultural background for me why those in the Jewish faith do not believe a person can forgive a crime or criminal on behalf of anyone but themselves. Yet Eva Mozes Kor does just that--to a vicious concentration camp doctor who performed horrific medical experiments on twin children.

On the 50th anniversary of liberation Kor made the unprecedented decision to forgive all Nazis in her own name. "When I wrote my declaration of amnesty I still wasn't exactly sure what I was doing. But once I read it and signed it the feeling of complete freedom from all the burdens, the pain inflicted upon me. It's a life changing experience to be free of that pain. Because just to be free from the Nazis that did not remove the pain they had inflicted upon me." When I see leadership actions like Kor's, I am further pushed to refine my approach to organizational problems. People used to speculate at work why I don't engage in organizational battles. For one thing I think it is a misdirected use of energy, exhibits poor interpersonal skills and almost guarantees I will have to atone for a mistake or forgive a person in the future. I would rather avoid that headache altogether.

Sometimes I think the world is absurd and it is best to observe rather than participate. During these times when my life seems to be in a valley rather than a peak I observe the story of Kor who was repeatedly rejected for employment because of her accent. I see this amazing woman shrug off this limitation, square her shoulders and remark "I was so surprised no one was going to give me a chance, after all I survived Auschwitz!" Her strength is awesome and she inspires me to make my first attempt at dealing with adversity with a dose of kindness. Learning how to forgive has taught me to see forgiveness as necessary, and also something to foresee and circumnavigate.

Sunday, August 19, 2012

Leadership and Storytelling (Semester Summary)

Storytelling is a fabulous treat. Good storytellers will never go out of business--humanity craves a powerful story. Over the course of this class I have become much more aware of the stories I and those around me tell. With that awareness I have played and explored with story structure, content and emotional impact.

In this class, each story I crafted was mentally strenuous. Why? Because humans love a good story and when disappointed by a story they provide immediate feedback. Sometimes they don't have to say a word. So, the pressure to tell a good story is a heavy weight. I have found a leader can be loved or hated for his or her story.  I have spent a good deal of time reflecting on what I have learned in this course. In some sense I seem no closer to being a storytelling leader than when I began the course. Perhaps it's that good stories are elusive.
Andy and Red (Credit)
On that note, I took a different perspective of a favorite movie to observe the influences of a leader telling and retelling a story.  As I rewatched Shawshank Redemption I began to see who was telling the story.  I have always thought the story was about Andy Dufresne's trip into the depths of misery and triumphant climb out of it. This time however I realized the story is told by Red and the story is about Red's redemption.

During Red's parole hearing speeches he gives positive but canned affirmations that he has been rehabilitated in prison--and his parole is consistently rejected. Through the evolution of Red's story we find he is not in denial about his transgressions, "the only guilty man in Shawshank" and lives openly in prison as a con man who "knows how to get things."  As time passes he admits he's an "institutional man" who doesn't think he can make it on the outside. To which Andy counters: "You underestimate yourself."

Here is where the beauty of a leader telling a good story can change the course of a person's life. Yet it is also the part which caused me the most deliberation in telling my stories.  Over summer break I've looked deeper and found Parker Palmer's "Let Your Life Speak:  Listening for the Voice of Vocation." It's a fabulous book about finding our calling. As a leader Palmer reminds us if we are in the wrong position we can do great harm to those under our charge.

"If I try to be or do something noble that has nothing to do with who I am, I may look good to others and to myself for awhile. But the fact that I am exceeding my limits will eventually have consequences. I will distort myself, the other, and our relationship--and may end up doing more damage than if I had never set out to do this particular 'good.' When I try to do something that is not in my nature or the nature of the relationship, way will close behind me."
Stories should not be used to manipulate and persuade people. They should be carefully constructed from the leader's authentic self to enrich the organization. It's no wonder the stories I wrote for this class were so challenging--I had to go deep within myself to find the story. Storytelling is so fundamentally human that we all understand immediately and intuitively when someone is not telling the full story, or cheapening it with a personal agenda.

A No Excuses leader may need to finely tune her or his diplomacy skills but should always tell an authentic story for the growth of all. To do that, the leader must know his or her staff, place the others highest needs at the top of action list and with humbleness tell the group's story so the emotional impact fuels the group forward.

Sunday, August 12, 2012

Warrior Hall of Fame -- Pam Warhurst

Pam Warhurst is hereby inducted into the No Excuses Warrior Hall of Fame and designated as one of an Elite Group of Leaders.

pam warhurst
Pam Warhurst (Credit)
Warrior Warhurst leads us into dialogue and action to build kindness towards one another and towards the environment. Warrior Warhurst started a revolution by sitting around the kitchen table with friends and collectively deciding food was a universal language a leader can use to help others think and see differently. Therefore without waiting for permission, funds or the development of a strategic plan these warrior volunteers united with local artists to creatively plant an edible landscape.

How did the community edible plant revolution take root? Warrior Warhurst took her message out to the people in her local community and said: "'We are all part of the local food jigsaw. We are all part of the solution.'" Warrior Warhurst acts on the familiar phrase made popular by Margaret Mead: "Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it's the only thing that ever has."

In an environment of complacency which allow others to make our food choices for us Warrior Warhurst is prodding us back into community choices. In the genesis town they are growing and sharing the yields of vegetables, fruits and herbs. In return the population of Todmorden, UK is growing in resilience, economical confidence and "starting to reinvent community ourselves." A No Excuses leader knows: we choose who we want to be.

Warrior Warhurst has a lot of pluck. Her TED speech is full of vigor and energy and opens with a mind bending thought: "The will to live differently can start in some of the most unusual places." In all of her successes with this initiative Warrior Warhurst regularly reminds us she and her cohorts are just volunteers, and this project--it's an experiment. Leaders have one commonality and that is to give. Beginnings often aren't smooth and flawless but we can reshape our views into action experiments. If nothing else--if we plant kindness, we have achieved great success.

Saturday, August 11, 2012

Becoming Your Future

Figure 1—Rut development on Florida low-volume road.
Credit: USDA
I strive to live in the moment. To do this takes self-discipline and purpose. However there are still plenty of times in my life when I mentally retreat into living in the past and other times thinking about my future. There are plenty of times when a leader can stay stuck in a rut and react to situations without a realistic understanding of the environment. For those leaders who become deeply entrenched they may notice that their problems keep repeating. This is painfully true for Bill Murray in Groundhog Day.

Murray plays an aging weatherman who worries only about himself. Instead of taking an interest in his current work he mocks, "Someday someone is going to see me interviewing a groundhog and think I don't have a future." Little does he know, his future is about to become inaccessible until he masters himself in the present moment.
Groundhog Day

The film walks us through a progression of the human condition trapped in a rut. Murray's behavior starts with skeptical, plows through suicidal, shifts to practical, and grows toward helpful. At this point he begins inner work, moves on to serving others and finally he is a breathtaking model of inspiration for the community.

Others have estimated his groundhog evolution covers 10 years. The film, watched as entertainment, makes transformational change seem quick and easy. But we all know it is not. Putting the change into a decade long perspective is interesting to me because it amplifies how we are creating our future by the choices we make in the moment.

Living in the moment is sometimes intense. In a moment of exasperation Murray says, "What if there is no tomorrow? There wasn't one today." I think staying in a rut is a literal interpretation of having no future. In my quest towards personal transformation I have asked myself some tough questions. I used to want to know what my future holds, now I work on creating my future in this moment.

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

The Future Story -- "Whale Rider"

We can build our future through story. This is a difficult task to do in great detail, so care must be taken in telling the future story--because most of us are not able to predict the future. This is essentially what our text tells us. On top of that the wizened professor said this is the story most grapple with.

Still of Keisha Castle-Hughes in Whale Rider
I have been wracking my brain for a future story I could relate to--to hold up as a model. Somewhere in the caverns of my mind the movie Whale Rider came to me as a likely candidate. As I rewatched it the Who I Am story of the protagonist Paikea, clearly was at odds with the Who We Are story traditionally held by the Whangara tribe of New Zealand. These traditional values held firm to patriarchal leadership even to the detriment of its own survival.

Her grandfather's vision was traditional and as Stephen Denning describes in the required text "People knew and kept their places, geographically as well as socially. Tradition was largely undisturbed by innovation. Overall change proceeded at a pace barely perceptible. Each generation was a replica of its predecessor. The central element of wisdom was seen as permanence." Paikea was born the future leader and broke taboos and precedence from the moment of birth; however as a girl who wanted to assume the role of leadership she was not recognized by her grandfather and chief who disdainfully said: "When she was born, that's when things went wrong for us." Yet she strove to honor and respect him while patiently loving him and seeking his attention and instruction all the while.

With unbelievable dedication, Paikea continues to embrace and model her vision. Her vision is to share knowledge so everyone can become a leader. In the process of rebirth to this new type of leader her grandfather nearly dies of a broken heart and Paikea nearly dies by drowning. Yet they both awaken together to the new leadership possibilities on the community's horizon. The movie ends beautifully showing communal unity.

Friday, August 3, 2012

When the only Stories are Negative

In several unhealthy work situations I've had the opportunity to be lumped in with, I've noticed most stories are negative. In our required text, "The Leader's Guide to Storytelling," Denning describes this: "An organization in difficulty will also have a vast underground river of negative storytelling at odds with the official stories being put out by its management. These stories may be invisible to outsiders and even to the management itself." Furthermore the storytellers and listeners seem to take pleasure in these negative stories. In my previous post I talked about how a leader can tell the group's story. In this post I want to elaborate on how the individual can shift the story from negative to a more healthy perspective.

Image Credit
My dives into internal leadership have led me to believe the person who seeks to redirect the negative flow of conversation must be healthy on the inside.  It will also take courage to speak positively in a negative situation. If you are not careful (and healthy on the inside) the negative talk can flow from the negative talk of the day--to you.

I am an inveterate joker and I've noticed as I've inserted more jokes into the conversation I've realized many of my co-workers appreciate my love of the absurd. I've also noticed how willing they are to participate in group storytelling when it includes jokes, even leading to the outrageous. Please note: no feelings are hurt during the telling of the jokes.

Don't get me wrong, we are still talking about negative things within the organization but instead of grinding ourselves deeper into an unhealthy pattern one person brings up the topic, behavior or person of contention and towards the end of the story another person flips it from negative to a funny (but untrue, often ridiculously untrue) new perspective. After the story takes hold each person in the group adds to the story until we all burst into laughter.

Denning advises us to use humor to brighten our story: "By referring to painful events in a humorous way, you demonstrate that you have mastered the experience, rather than that the experience has crushed you." We are using this advice to break up the painful experience in the moment and to date it's working fabulously!

Friday, July 27, 2012

Telling the Group's Story

As the leader it can be downright difficult to make a group decision, so why would the leader even want to attempt to tell the group story? At this stage in my education I can honestly say storytelling is a potent way to connect and unite a group. However, with great power comes great challenges. To be effective the leader must first know her or himself.

It can be inauthentic, even offensive to have a leader come in and start throwing out commands-by-storytelling. As I wrote my group story for class I constantly evaluated how I could use a single point of reference and tell the group story without creating one of those unreadable case studies. Furthermore I often describe myself as fiercely independent and I truly do not like people to speak for me. This puts me in a bit of a tight spot as I wonder how I can unite without offending.

As I have worked extensively on honing my intuition (hence the partial blog vacation) I have relaxed back into the energy space where all questions have answers. I recently watched the documentary "Fierce Light: When Spirit Meets Activism" and I was reminded of the South African philosophy of Ubuntu.

Ubuntu is the belief "I am because you are." A leader who approaches storytelling with the belief that we are all inter-related and inter-dependent can often tell the group story. Desmond Tutu articulates: "A person with Ubuntu is open and available to others, affirming of others, does not feel threatened that others are able and good, based from a proper self-assurance that comes from knowing that he or she belongs in a greater whole and is diminished when others are humiliated or diminished, when others are tortured or oppressed."

Ubuntu removes inauthenticity so the leader and storyteller who operates out of this philosophy may take great joy in observing the group and learning the group tendencies to connect on a deeper level with the group. This deeper connection creates a deeper meaning for all who partake in the story. This deeper meaning, I am finding, is what storytelling is all about. 

Sunday, June 24, 2012

When the Individual Merges with the Group

Ultraviolet Andromeda (NASA)
I've spent the bulk of my life immersed in Western culture--which insists on individualism. However much the individual would like to take credit for individual successes, it's an unhealthy practice in an organization.  Oddly enough when we are looking at the bigger picture we understand the individual must combine with the group. NASA superimposed 330 images to create this single image of the Andromeda Galaxy.

The required text, The Leader's Guide to Storytelling, does a wonderful job of disassembling the groan heard around the world over introducing "teamwork in a traditional organization" which the author claims is because "most people have been subjected to large quantities of fake collaboration."  Of course most people are in an organization together for a reason and over time that reason seems like a distant star is a galaxy far, far away.  From my experience I can also assume people who are thrust together to accomplish a task are often not guided by a warm hearted leader who cares much about the happiness of the team. Also, if the focus is on the bottom line then if there is teamwork it is often thwarted by the cutthroat members of the organization.

Isn't there a way to introduce people into teams where there are grins, not groans?  Denning quotes The Wisdom of Teams authors:
"What sets apart high-performance the degree of commitment, particularly how deeply committed the members are to one another. Such commitments go well beyond civility and teamwork. Each genuinely helps the others to achieve both personal and professional goals."
He further describes aligning people to collaborate rests on shared values. I don't think many traditional organizations are capable of pulling this off, yet I also feel that any leader worth her or his salt should be treating everyone on their team with the care and concern mentioned above. Is it the leader on the team who should introduce this concept to the group? I think the first step a No Excuses leader should consider is merging herself or himself into the group.

Sunday, June 10, 2012

Internal Dialogue: What Stories Am I Telling Myself?

Front Cover
Despite writing in both my first blog post and the one year reflection post explaining that I go inward to draw strength I am absolutely baffled on how to capture this process on demand. As I regain my footing in this arena, one source which I find helpful comes from a text in the Leadership and Imagination class: Jon Kabat-Zinn's Wherever You Go There You Are: Mindfulness Meditation In Everyday Life. The book is written in short, powerful chapters. I have been re-listening to it on audio as it feels like walking meditation to me.

The title chapter reminds us that in the grand scheme of things the grass is not greener on the other side because the commonality of the situation is you. Hence the need to look inward. "There is always something to dislike. So why not let go and admit that you might be home wherever you are? Right in that moment, you touch the core of your being and invite mindfulness to enter and heal."  So instead of blaming externals I have been examining the stories I am telling myself. Maybe it's time to retell those stories.

Kabat-Zinn provides me with one way to do this: "There can be no resolution leading to growth until the present situation has been faced completely and you have opened to it with mindfulness, allowing the roughness of the situation itself to sand down your own rough edges." Is this not what developed leaders do? Listen to all sides of the story before (ideally) jointly crafting any change in direction?


In the last several months I have become more dedicated to meditation. It can be incredibly challenging to come home after work and begin the second shift: school work. I have found a half hour meditation practice creates a gentle transition into studying--and I enjoy the feeling of calmness and a settled mind from an accepting-what-is practice. Meditation further helps me develop mindfulness. And mindfulness assures me I am telling the right story.

Kabat-Zinn is one teacher with many stories on mindfulness. His explanations are a bit like a diving board. It's there if you need to generate the momentum, but the dive and the results of the dive are up to you.

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

You Want to Know About Me?

Storyteller : Illustration of Kids Listening to a Story Stock Photo
I love stories! In my earlier years I tried to play a book on tape while I cleaned house. The next thing I knew I heard a snap and when I reconnected to the present I found myself sitting cross-legged and about two inches from the cassette player, side A over--house uncleaned.

For summer credit and to wrap up my final elective in the program I decided to enroll in Leadership and Storytelling. This class held a three day intensive on-campus session followed by online course work. I think it's safe to say I never know what to expect when I take a class in this program.  The timing is right for this class as it is unbelievably an internal exploration--the perfect segue to build on my leadership develop program from Leadership, Justice and Forgiveness.

Storyteller : Three colorful arrow signs reading Comedy, Drama and Tragedy representing the contrasting types of stage and theatre productions and how life stories are the intersection of all three types of fiction  Stock Photo
Story Direction
My time in class showed me stories are most effective when they are personal. The people in class came to know each other by their stories. It is an amazing tool to transfer knowledge. However when I sat down to figure out who I am--I realized there are no easy answers. So how can I expect, as a leader, anyone to know who I am, unless I tell them? The focus is authentic leadership. The great concept in storytelling is I am the guide--I get to tell my story. Of course there are guide posts, but I get to be completely responsible for my story.  This notion alone is a powerful way to reframe myself as a leader. So, you want to know about me? Well so do I. Let the exploration begin!


Monday, May 28, 2012

Leadership, Justice and Forgiveness (Semester Summary)

I believe leadership is an action. I test myself through each of these classes; perhaps the test was greater with this class. A significant question I ask myself at the conclusion of a class is: How did I apply what I learned?  As I reflect back to my initial post I see an uncertain student. As I mentally engaged in the required reading uncertainty was a regular guest. I also felt this was a class with an impact which would become more evident as I healed from the readings. Therefore, I looked for an external example to demonstrate the principles of servant leadership, justice and forgiveness.

Holding Cell
Crowded U.S. Prison
Angola prison in Louisiana is an interesting look at restorative justice.  While many prisons in the U.S. are overcrowded to the point that many inmates are being released--sentence unserved, Angola prison is a maximum security prison where over 85% of the prisoners will die in prison. In Serving Life, Angola warden, Burl Cain is demonstrating servant leadership and stepping back to allow the prisoners to grow into servant leadership as well.

Cain's philosophy is rooted in practicality: "The criminal is a selfish person, whatever he wants he takes it. The way to be the opposite of that taker is to be a giver." Even so the prison operates as a working farm, holds rodeos twice yearly, provides a variety of educational opportunities (including parenting programs) and allows for an inmate published and edited magazine. These elements are notable on their own, but as the warden notes: "The only true rehabilitation was moral. I can teach you skills and trades but I just make you a smarter criminal unless we get something in our heart."
Word on bronze ornament Stock Photo - 11901603
As part of this heart-giving program one prisoner with a 149 year sentence says: "I put my hand on his arm and I prayed for him. He was the first one for me to touch out of compassion." Another prisoner with a 60 year sentence says: "I thought maybe if I helped somebody else, that would relieve some of the guilt." Another prisoner talks of his transformation: 'It's less stressful for me because I'm not taking on my own cares, I'm taking on the cares of someone else." Another budding servant leader says: "It's helping us live our life with love." How did these maximum security prisoners learn compassion?

Angola prison now offers the prisoners to serve one another as Hospice volunteers. The volunteers provide the physical services of a nurse's assistant but more importantly they provide companionship and genuine warmth to the end-of-life prisoners. At the end there is a bed side vigil in which the volunteers provide love and support but must also face their own mortality.

I say the warden is a servant leader because he initiated this program knowing full well he believes he could not serve as a Hospice volunteer. Yet I would speculate he is learning from the compassion of the prisoners on a daily basis. To me this servant leader should be commended because he stepped outside of his own limitations. Furthermore I believe this example of Hospice for restorative justice exemplifies a healing element of servant leadership, one in which all who are involved heal.

As I reflect more on this class I came to believe the students who take this class and engage in the dark side to find the light are, in the long run, better leaders. I have discovered forgiveness is imperative to healing and leading.  The final paper in this class required a leadership development plan.  My plan includes developing my interior. I am a bit in the dark on this, but I am willing to engage in exploration which provides me the assurance I will find a treasure.

Saturday, May 26, 2012

Can I Forgive?

The readings in this class were powerful stories of survivors of the Holocaust, incest, racism and American Indian genocide. Prevalent in all of these stories was the powerful element of forgiveness. I took these stories into my heart. In the same element I must say I read them as a human being, but they weren't personalized; I didn't engage the question of forgiveness in my heart because I felt I was not close enough to the experience to make an honest wrestling with the topic.

The Iran Hostage Crisis: 444 Days to Freedom (What Really Happened in Iran)
As a more accessible, but temporary substitute I watched Canadian film The Iran Hostage Crisis: 444 Days to Freedom (What Really Happened in Iran).  Why? As a former Marine, my heart beats in tune with the exemplary actions and integrity of Sgt. James Lopez. The values of the Marine Corps are evident in a gracefully arrogant savoir faire which amuses Marines and annoys most others. For instance in a calm, careful plan to escape the escalating mob in Iran a small group from the American embassy are stopped on the street and searched. An Iranian retrieves an expensive radio from Lopez and starts to walk away. Lopez immediately drew the Iranian's attention back to him by making eye-catching hand gestures and speaking about the radio. Lopez lulled the Iranian into letting him get his hands on the radio, once this was accomplished Lopez casually smashed the radio into bits and pieces and handed the radio back to the Iranian.  

But not all Marines are honorable in every moment. This insight sunk in deeply from reading Man's Search for Meaning in the genesis class of this blog: Leadership and Hardiness. I came to the realization not only are human beings not honorable at all times, but each and every one of us is capable of human atrocity.  For instance Lopez describes what to us is an ultimate betrayal:
"There was one American who shall remain nameless who was going around telling the Iranians who each American was, giving them information. He should've been shot for that, but I don't set policy."

This is a black and white perspective and one I respect. However could I forgive this action if it was a Marine who committed it? Can I forgive someone who violated his honor and did not protect my Marines? From this class I have discovered I can endlessly speculate and try to codify and manipulate my forgiveness based upon conditions. I also discovered I do not want to do this. My wish today is to forgive (even if only in my heart) and find a way to live up to my noble aspirations.

Friday, May 25, 2012

Interior Leadership

Interior view of a cave at the Florida Caverns State Park - Marianna, Florida
The readings in this class were so painful for me, they drove me inward and I made my first deliberate foray into interior leadership. In my cave it was nice, cool and dark. It was hard to recognize any landmarks, so I sat quietly and looked for the light from the dark. I had a great boost from a published interview of Parker Palmer. I agree when he says: "Our culture attributes reality and power almost exclusively to externals—territory, property, wealth, and political access." This is traditionally how I have seen leadership tangibly.

Usually I focus on how the organization operates followed closely by shaping thoughts like kneading bread dough into how I can work with the culture and processes to influence its members. It was a revelation to set this aside and go inside to discover some empty caverns, a few sharp edges and enough black spaces that I knew I needed to back out for the present and get my bearings before I made any deep explorations. I am rewarded with the thought that at least now I know where to start my disciplined development.

To inspire me, Palmer shares the power of interior leadership and its truth when he identifies its incredible power: "I learned it from oppressed people who have no power except inner power—and yet have created great social change. In our time we’ve seen the impact of people like Nelson Mandela, Rosa Parks, and Vaclav Havel, who found the courage to lead from their own deepest truths." Well, when its put that way, it drives me to want to go deeper into my cave.

Sunday, May 13, 2012

Asking for Forgiveness

Photo Credit
There is a social grace to asking for forgiveness, but I do not believe it is an art. So, if we set aside any paralyzing fears of embracing artistry, it seems to me anyone can ask for forgiveness. So why don't we? Prior to this class I would say I was caught up in the pettiness of unhealthy behavior and I don't remember ever truly asking forgiveness of someone I had wronged. More likely I felt horrible and simply apologized until we either worked it out and moved on or it became a thorn in our sides that never truly went away.  On the flip side if someone asked me for forgiveness I was equally embarrassed and made quick amends hoping these cheap actions would lead to passing the awkward phase quickly.

Luckily I have found there is a better way.  That is to truly, from your heart, ask for forgiveness. How is this done? To be honest, I only have one under my belt so here is but one way to do it. This class required two papers inclusive of taking personal responsibility in a situation and asking forgiveness.  I did not complete the task on my first assignment, but it led me to inevitably conclude I must ask one person I had recently wronged to forgive me. My initial mindset was to be upset with this person because he had reprimanded me for something I didn't do and he knew I didn't do it. I refused to talk to him for weeks. Now mind you, this was my supervisor at work so it made life at work fairly unpleasant for everyone.

Although this class was slim on defining servant leadership by form of required reading (which I now feel I need to catch up on) I quickly realized I needed to take responsibility for creating this work barrier. Even knowing I had to ask forgiveness I shied away from it for another week or so.  One morning, when I could avoid it no longer I asked permission to come in his office. I openly expressed my emotions and feelings and in one sentence I told him which behaviors had hurt me. Then I told him I hadn't been treating him like a friend and I was sorry for that. I finished this by asking forgiveness.

It was awkward for awhile, but now we are co-creating our new relationship and ever aware of how we treat one another. It is still new, but I have confidence we will have a better relationship out of this. I have another forgiveness asking scheduled next week on a trip home. I hope I hear:

Monday, April 30, 2012

Leadership on Top of the World

Himalayas : Climber in Himalayan mountain
Himalayan range
I had the great privilege to attend a presentation featuring Ed Viesturs a short while back. Throughout this class I have been taking a much needed human-focused approach to understanding servant leadership. But Viesturs reminded me leadership can also be in service to mountains, communities and legacies. Viesturs is a humble man who has climbed the 14 highest peaks of the world without supplemental oxygen, been part of 30 expeditions without a death or serious illness attributed to his name or any team he has been on and spent 18 years dedicating his life to reach his final Himalayan mission: Annapurna. 

annapurna himalaya
To walk away from this fierce region with all your digits, your sanity and many life-long friends one must quickly recognize the many leadership qualities inherent in Viesturs. A leader is rarely this lucky, so there must be something underneath the surface. To begin with Ed brings some personal qualities to the table which are worth cultivating: conservative decision making, trust your intuition, be passionate about what you do, be committed to your passion, temper ambition with patience and most of all enjoy the journey. It's hard to say if Viesturs developed these traits before mountaineering or while mountaineering but one thing is for certain Ed has faced the toughest challenges and come out a remarkable servant leader.

Again and again Ed mentioned how he listened to the mountain. The mountain always told him if the conditions were right. Sure one can analyze weather reports, gauge the density of snow and ice for forthcoming avalanches and trust in established routes, but Ed went deeper. Ed is truthful in that he doesn't like to leave things unfinished. His writing partner spoke on Ed's behalf stating in the past if Ed has made it to a false summit of even 40 feet and has to turn around he does not count it, and he will go back. Viesturs attempted Annapurna three times before he was successful. In his heart he even asked himself if he could let it go, but on his third trip he listened to the mountain and found his window of opportunity.

Viesturs journey is inspiring. He is one of the most genuine and humble speakers I have come across. Then again, I think he has little to prove and spends his time on his passions--which frankly makes him or anyone rather endearing. To me he is an excellent example of servant leadership on a global level. He has persevered for his own sake yet he has regularly sacrificed summits for the safety and well being of others, he has willingly paid descending Sherpas to collect spent oxygen tanks and he has shared his vast skill and intellect to teach about gentle, caring strategy. Ed Viesturs may have climbed and descended the world's 14 highest peaks, but as far as I'm concerned he is still on top of the world.

Friday, April 13, 2012

Servant Leadership: The Element of Healing

As I continue to study and understand what servant leadership is, I see it has many characteristics and one is a focus on healing one’s self and healing others. Of course a common understanding of the ultimate purpose of servant leadership is the commitment to help and serve others so they may reach their full potential and abilities.
 Do some have an innate ability to heal? An interesting pattern presented itself to me through the reconciliation process of the two meant-to-be lovers in The Count of Monte Cristo.  In the film version an American happily-ever-after version is neatly stitched into the fabric of the original story. After the hero, Edmond Dant├Ęs escapes from prison he uses his painstakingly and newly acquired intellectual skills, finely honed sword-fighting finesse, and wealth to seek revenge on those who betrayed him. He is profoundly hurt by his true love’s marriage to his former best friend. Yet we discover true love is simply that; at least in the movies it seems to weave the magic that resolves all the hurts in our hearts.
The Hidden Child DVD - Of more interest to me is the factual account of Maud Dahme, a child survivor of the Holocaust whose story is featured in The Hidden Child.  After liberation Maud is miraculously reunited with her parents (who hid separately to increase the odds of survival for their children) and the family immigrated to America. Maud grows up to marry an Aryan German American. It boggles my mind that two people can accept each other and heal together. It gives me faith a servant leader can do the same.
How can I talk about love in a curriculum-prescribed time devoted to the Holocaust? How can I not? Every day I commit myself to cultivating love and compassion. My current organization can be draining because of its tendency to employ a fire-ready-aim operations approach that is coupled with a misguided short-sighted sense that everything is urgent. 
Most attempts to approach a solution with this modus operandi result in upheaval, in-fighting and flexing political might. I am grateful to have other experiences which have shown me the fruitlessness of this approach. I am also dedicated to my growth and that of others. Nevertheless, resisting this MO has generated organizational and personal wounds. So how do I move forward? At present I am exploring loving alternatives other than personal intimacy in the organization. But I do recognize the powerful healing tool of love. 

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

A Day in the Holocaust Museum

Yesterday, on my day off, I spent the day in the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum. It was my second all-day visit. When I first moved to the Washington, DC area I spent days wandering the National Mall, soaking in larger than life art, architecture and tapping into the root of American history. After I had dazzled myself for a couple of weeks with the exhibits I decided to find the Holocaust Museum. It was a blazing-hot August day when I finally found Raoul Wallenberg Place a few blocks off the Mall. One of the five people I knew (and just met) in the area was going to meet me and we were going to tour together. She called and cancelled.

I've come to realize people have many projections of what the museum is and few, in the area, who I know have been able to face down their vision of the museum. So it is a wonder, now as tourist season is in full swing, that tickets are handed out daily to limit the number of visitors--because the architect had not envisioned so many people would come to the memorial.

The first time I visited I took the elevators up to the permanent exhibit with no idea what to expect. In my hand I held a female identification card I picked up with an ominous feeling. Yesterday I held a male identification card as I walked through the display of the beginning of the Holocaust through liberation.

On the top floor I walked the gauntlet of propaganda, never ending film loops of Hitler screeching irately to masses, book-burnings, bizarre charts and instruments that measured human body parts and subsequently determined "race," and the faded black and white striped prisoner uniforms. I passed the small wooden bunk beds that fit 5 yet it's smaller than my bed. I walked through the wooden transportation rail cart that crammed so many prisoners in it there could be either none or almost no room to move.

As I left the smell of chemicals and wood I saw discarded luggage on the ground that had been rummaged through, emptied and sorted as if it belonged to the Nazi party. I continued through the maze of people and remembrances of those who did not make it and passed the glass windows etched with the names of European towns which no longer exist. The smell of rubber shoes (sadly, worth more than human life) still clings to me. Then finally into the room of survivor's testimony. Each visit I have sat and listened for over an hour to the full loop of stories. The strength and courage of these people is profound.

I went to the museum with my senses tuned to forgiveness. I did not find it. As I reflect on this I recalled several years ago seeing the documentary Hiding and Seeking:Faith and Tolerance after the Holocaust, a father's exploration to teach his Orthodox sons that not all Polish people were bad. However there was no satisfactory resolution in this documentary despite the father's faith in his own resilience, survival and physical retracing and retelling of his experience. On the whole, with the testimony of the survivors, the male and female identification cards (both survived) and from my reflections, I believe nobody who survived did it alone.

As I continue with a mindful step towards forgiveness and reconciliation through our required reading The Sunflower, and continue to reflect on the course theme I feel equal parts pain, and need for relief through forgiveness. Yet, I recognize many of us who have not been tested or survived such trials blatantly admit we have difficulty asking for and granting forgiveness. How can we achieve true forgiveness if we are afraid to grant it? How can we live with the pain of the unforgiven? At this moment, I do not know.