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.