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: