Sunday, June 2, 2013

Final Post: Graduate School -- A Reflection

Forest Fire Blazing Through an Evergreen Forest
The month before I started graduate school I decided to leave a conservative organization to accept a promotion for, in all honesty, promotion's sake. In view of my personal development I don't know if this was the best decision I could make or the worst, but I'm fairly certain pursuing a promotion for no other purpose than for promotion's sake is a choice I likely won't repeat.  As it turned out, I began working in an organization which I describe as nothing less than one of organizational terrorism.   The organization and persons in positions of management were found, in Congressional reports, to follow blatant patterns of mismanagement, abuse and dysfunction. It was a place and culture of incredible greed, corruption and cruel mistreatment of much in its path. Even the Inspector General, a hefty weight in the checks-and-balance process was fired. 

It was the worst job I've ever had in my life. 

Forest Fire Regrowth
It took months, nearly a year, for me to find my next job.  I knew it would only be a plateau where I could catch my breath and recover. Still, I tried my best to help the organization and those around me. Although this organization was clearly broken there were a few who pressed on in the face of adversity to serve the mission but these efforts were often lost in the fray. I don't know anyone who honestly sees this organization able to right its broken parts.

It was the second worst job I've ever had.

In the coursework an interview with Parker Palmer captured much of what I kept seeing:
"I think, in fact, that the work place has become the battlefield of many peoples’ lives.  The place where they feel violence done to their identity and integrity as they become cogs in a machine, or deployable resources and replaceable resources used simply on behalf of some organizational goal or ulterior motive.  And that’s not a nice way to be in the world, that’s a way that murders the spirit and actually if you translate it in terms of organizational bottom line, gets worse work out of people that you would if you extended them respect at least, if not full reverence."
I wanted to leave this job and despite a growing fatigue I could not get past the interview and in all honesty I didn't want the jobs I was interviewing for. But I did begin to see each interview as practice--and through practice I learned to research the organization more intensely and ask the questions I wanted answers to. In the midst of these struggles I had to learn to apply new leadership principles--like the ones I've expressed in this blog. In his interview Palmer may as well have been speaking to me:
 "A leader has to take his or her community, or his or her organization or group through a rough passage, through white water to get to the other side, to get to the place where we can all acknowledge that God ain’t finished with any of us yet. That we’re broken, that we’re all works in progress and we need each other to help put the pieces together, to help make something better happen. "
I began to change my tactics. I found those people who were doing their best and I encouraged them and formed community with them. I spent my time differently; I focused exclusively on doing tasks that made me better and better at what I do--and I let the rest go. I made decisions no one had made before and I stood by them. I refused to participate in abusive situations.  I made peace with the organization.

The day before graduation I was offered a promotion in the progressive organization (amongst my research and interviews) I found most fitting.

I start tomorrow.

Wednesday, May 29, 2013

My Favorite Posts (Pt. 3)

In the final round of my favorite posts I look back slightly as I completed the program on the 10th yet I am wrapping up those last few reflections which weren't fully formed enough (nor did I have the energy) to complete while I was low crawling to the finish line. Is this disciplined effort really at its closure? It's sad for me to say yes (although I want to say no). Graduate school has been such a whirlwind of learning and self-management that I know right now I want to keep these lessons and discipline close to me, yet I also know that I will grow slightly undisciplined and take a breather. I deserve one. But will I get back up on my feet again and continue onward? These are the thoughts weighing on my mind as I review my remaining favorite posts.

Leadership, Justice and Forgiveness was likely the most painful class I have ever taken. Learning about forgiveness wasn't so difficult but opening my heart to atrocity was. I re-learned a truth about myself: I am willing to bear witness. This class ran me through the ringer. As an extrovert I constantly found myself going out and engaging (even amidst great fatigue) in regular social activities because it was the quickest way I could process this pain. Of course asking for forgiveness and readily shedding my ego to forgive others was no picnic in the park, but I am grateful I did. Beyond anything to do with leadership, my life has been radically transformed by the ability to forgive and ask for forgiveness.

By embracing the servant leadership philosophy I began to seek out ways to heal others. Full body listening was a great place to start but when I asked questions and tried to redirect people away from hostility, anger and self-defeatism I found that my traditional understandings of motivation left me rarely able to penetrate the armor of hardened civil servants. So many government workers act as if they are prisoners (I regularly remind them where they are is a choice) and some even hold murderous thoughts (as well as cruel and really, really petty ones). In Murder(ous Thoughts) and Meditation I was deeply moved by the ability of meditation to serve as a space for sacred healing. While I usually don't recommend meditation practice (it truly is too personal of a choice) I do share the stories and outcomes of the prisoners who have completed meditation. So far it has brought a new understanding to many people.

Finally, the latest in my warrior series, Warrior Hall of Fame -- Abbot Phra Acharn Phusit (Chan) Khantitharo speaks to me on so many levels. The ability to know yourself so well that seemingly nothing phases you is exactly what I am trying to develop. This leader also enforced a message in me that peace can tame far more than I have ever given it credit for. From this example I too will continue to face adversity with a gentle approach--perhaps it will become not only my preferred way to resolve adversity but a style which provides little fodder for difficult people.

Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Warrior Hall of Fame -- Abbot Phra Acharn Phusit (Chan) Khantitharo

Abbot Phra Acharn Phusit Khantitharo is hereby inducted into the No Excuses Warrior Hall of Fame and designated as one of an Elite Group of Leaders.

Abbot Phra Acharn Phusit Khantitharo (Source)

What would you do if you were given a diagnosis of terminal leukemia? Phra Acharn chose to become a monk and walk the roads of Thailand, journeying from monastery to monastery.  Along the way he eradicated his fear of death (and apparently his leukemia) and any feelings of fear from wild animals. He settled in a forest monastery known as The Tiger Temple.

As the narrator tells it: "Phra Acharn is not an animal trainer, he has no relevant education but nevertheless he bridles adult tigers and directs them without chains and cages, without any power."  What sort of leader is capable of taking in tigers and not trying to domesticate or assert his will over the tigers but whose ultimate goal is to create Tiger Island--a place where the endangered tigers may live freely, naturally?

As Acharn tells it: "Every single tiger is special. Each one has feelings, thoughts and dreams. These tigers are not here by chance, they came to me looking for protection. Now I am responsible for them." Indeed the story told in The Tiger and The Monk is one where leadership dives to deeper and more complicated levels. Monks are forbidden to work for money and even beg for their food yet the the tigers must be fed and cared for. The tigers are most noticed at the monastery but the temple has also become a self-formed sanctuary started by old, injured animals that showed up. Wild boars, peacocks, deer, water buffalo and horses have formed a "strange community" under the protection of the monastery walls. The abbot and his monks daily walk the tigers on leashes or merely with a hand on the back through this animal sanctuary. It seems unbelievable when one holds a paradigm that leaders cannot manage by peaceful means; however it also seems the most harmonious means of leadership are indeed through peaceful, attentive loving kindness.

Collaborative Leadership Relationship (Source)
"If you learn how to communicate from the heart they will become very tame with you, they will also listen to your commands." Abbot Acharn

Monday, May 6, 2013

My Favorite Posts (Pt. 2)

Stages of Moral Development (Source)
Ethics is a big deal to me so the Semester Summary for this class assisted me in accepting the ethical choices of others even if I found those choices unethical. In part the readings over the course showed me several models of development.  One model which spoke to me and helped me understand less than ethical choices of others was Lawrence Kohlberg's Stages of Moral Development. This model was easy to use and it parallels a bit to Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs.  In my least favorite organizations it became easy to see how adults were trapped in stages they should've outgrown. It was helpful to hold this perspective when communicating with these low-functioning adults.  In fact I began to feel compassion for them. I love being a kid and at times I still am but there comes a time when you have to assume responsibility for yourself and grow into universal ethics.  I also loved finding the documentary Dive! and these dumpster diving people who are living up to their ethics (or civil disobedience) to stand up to waste.  The documentary reinforced my consumer choices to try and think of all parties involved in the food chain.

I actually had the Larry Bird ball as a kid
My next favorite post and quite possibly my favorite of all time came with re-looking at Competitive Leadership. Leaders come in many forms and arenas--and they feed off one another. Larry Bird is one of the greatest leaders of all time (sorry Magic I love you too).  As a kid I read Drive and I watched many Celtics games and all Celtics-Lakers games I could manage. But my favorite times were pacing the living room floor, sucked into the world of a fast-paced intellectual game played out on the court with one bouncing ball which I would follow for hours on end.  Little did I know I was seeing something magical--the formation of a selfless game of basketball created by two fierce competitors who played the game with life-purpose focus.  Bird has influenced me for much of my life.  But as I examined the notion of competitive leadership  in a new lens I saw that he is still influencing me.  I also learned to love his rival because it was that fierce competition that the startling new leadership emerged from.  I have not implemented competitive leadership in my life but only because I have not found that rival who could potentially make me strive for this level of performance.

A Weathered Ed Viesturs (Source)
My next favorite post came from attending a lecture at the National Geographic featuring Ed Viesturs. In Leadership on Top of the World I came to see leadership as even more than service to people. Rather it's the entire output of our actions to the environment and those whom we do not lead but share the planet with.

On top of that, Viesturs is one of the most humble speakers I have encountered. His abiding vision to climb the 14 highest mountain peaks without supplemental oxygen is not so interesting to me as his careful, thought out approach to do it. In particular I am impressed with his record to complete such dangerous goals with no sustained injuries to himself or those on his teams.  Additionally he has set aside his summit on occasion to help others when he noticed other mountaineers poor luck or choices left them in a vulnerable or dangerous position. Of course leadership often entails giving up your advantage so at a minimum others may survive but also so that they may succeed--sometimes even beyond you.

I care a lot about ethics, integrity, professionalism and leaders with a commitment to the growth of others as well as leaders with wildly unique achievements. These posts helped me reinforce that in my daily actions and my overarching personal leadership plan. Bird and Viesturs accomplished huge strides in this lifetime yet both are extremely humble.  This is a reminder for me to keep humbleness on my agenda. It seems when I am humble, I too, am able to accomplish a lot more.  

Saturday, May 4, 2013

No Excuses a la Robin Sharma

Robin Sharma (Source)
A few weeks ago Robin Sharma made a video as an advertisement for an upcoming workshop. I won't be attending it but the few minutes of the video were so powerful and relevant to my No Excuses philosophy I have to share them. He is addressing those who want to be in the top 5%; those who want to be super successful, alter their mindsets and be the best of the best.

"Imagine if that was your standard. Literally you want to be the undisputed heavy weight champion of your field, the best their ever was. So good they cannot ignore you. You literally want to make history not only with your work but with your life."

I would say that is alignment with a No Excuses philosophy. Naturally his number 1 tip came as no surprise to me.

(1.) Cut your excuses in half and double the action you take.
  • You can make excuses or you can change the world, but you can't do both.


(2.) Leave the herd.

  • To have the results only 5% get, have the guts to do what only 5% are willing to do.

  • Most people in the world right now are card carrying members of the cult of mediocrity

  • Genius is an act that threatens people.

(3.) Dig grit.

  • Grit is the number 1 factor to success.

  • Grit means you just don't give up.

(4.) Get fit to be of use.

  • The more fit you are, the more people you can help.

  • The more fit you are, the more you can pursue your vision.

  • The more fit you are, the more you'll have the energy and stamina to change the world.  


I have spent over two years on this blog and thinking about how to shave off those excuses that pop into my head or the ones I sometimes feel myself drifting towards and even questioning people who bring excuses to me, yet Robin Sharma shredded the need for excuses in just a few minutes!  More than anything excuses come between those who succeed and those who don't--and if you think otherwise check closely and see if those excuses and assumptions are true or learned behavior towards fearing failure or being ridiculed. His rallying speech is also a potent reminder to tap into our inner genius and be our potential regardless of what others think of us. In the end we succeed on our own merits which may be recognized by others, but not always. Most importantly, when we are in touch with our inner genius we choose our own definition of success.

Sunday, April 21, 2013

My Favorite Posts (Pt. 1)

I love every post I've written in this blog. Each one took hours to construct and then unmeasured time to incorporate into my life and my leadership style. However I have a few favorites. These are my favorites merely because of how much I learned when I wrote them and how much they have pushed me further into being a No Excuses Leader.

Homeless with Humor
 My opening post holds the theme of humor to handle aspects of adversity--namely funny homeless cardboard signs. These people may dip below the glass being half full but they are surely showing signs of resiliency and hardiness. I try regularly to give small sums to the homeless but more importantly I try and ask how they are doing. The stories of the homeless are often amazing. One of my favorite autobiographies is Land of the Lost Souls: My Life on the Streets by Cadillac Man.  Many people hold strong assumptions about the homeless and try to rationalize why he or she will not give to them.  While these assumptions may or may not be true, if another human being asks in good faith and I can help, I usually will. Mother Theresa wrote this poem that always resonates with me. 

My next favorite post is about Celebrating the Brilliance of Others.  A lot of this program is about learning to be the leader who develops others rather than shouts commands and demands obedience. One way to implement this is to really search for the strengths in others and encourage that growth.  Prior to graduate school I was an adult literacy tutor for 2 years. I worked with the same student and at least initially I realized the bulk of my work was building his self-esteem. He knew how to read fairly well yet he held himself back because there was no one who appreciated his strengths and helped develop them. One thing I miss about tutoring and working with my student is that he kept me humble. He was one of the hardest working and best students I've ever encountered. It took months and months of weekly meetings before he believed me. He taught me to keep humbleness in my life--I am able to do that in part by looking for and genuinely celebrating the brilliance of others.

My next favorite post was learning about John Francis and his 17 year vow of Silence. This man would help me redefine my definition of environmentalism to include the climate of human behavior. He would also help me explore my research design on silence. I have so much more to learn about silence but I've found it tremendously useful to conscientiously close my mouth, open my ears and fully listen to the person who is speaking to me. In most cases I do not attempt to multitask (studies are finding that like anger this trick lowers your IQ by up to 10 points). I believe embracing silence has helped me to be even more calm, silence my ego and accomplish more in less time.

These are my first three favorite posts for philosophy and action-based development.  Also, when I opened this blog I was willing to struggle for growth; I no longer feel that is necessary. I release that need and replace it with the notion that growth can be achieved by other means.

Friday, April 12, 2013

Confucius says...

China Forbidden City Dragon
The required, abridged and tailored text briefly highlights the work of Confucius.  When I saw he was required reading I replayed in my mind all the things I knew about him: He is a revered leader from ancient China; He created well-defined rules of etiquette (it's rude to have guests slice their own food--hence everything should be served in bite-size portions) and frankly that's all I knew about him.  I lived a year in Japan and spent two months in Korea. I loved  both places and the people in them. But I've never been interested in China. No wonder I knew so little. After my glimpse into the teachings of Lao Tzu which I could relate to a little more because of a basic familiarity with Daoism, I realized I had a lot to learn about China's leaders.

I decided to start with a biography on Confucius.  As it turns out the words of the Master in Confucius' Analects ring in bitter irony and parallel what he and every other spurned but noble leader should apply to their life: "Don't worry if people don't recognize your merits; worry that you may not recognize theirs."  Interestingly enough Confucius was (most likely) born to a concubine mother and geriatric father.  At a young age his father died and he and his mother were on their own. He grew up in extreme poverty but what set him apart from others "was an incredible curiosity for learning." His mother encouraged this in hopes that he would one day hold a high government position.  His mother died when he was young and he had an even rougher road ahead of him.

His descendent (75th generation), XiangLin Kong says: "Confucius was driven to achieve the goals he set for himself. He was relentless in the improvement of his character. He said there is no time to stop learning. Only  after you have closed the lid on the coffin can you say you have stopped learning." Despite ardent learning and continuous self-improvement he spent the bulk of his life without a prominent position other than as a teacher and for a brief time as a leader of the state of Lu. He was forced into exile by conspirators, never to regain a leadership position. His vision was for a just and peaceful China. He wandered for 13 years looking for a prince, a leader worthy of him. He did not find one.  During his travels he received feedback from Lao Tzu (as related by Roger Ames):
 "The problem with you sir is that your intelligence enables you to evaluate people critically and when you evaluate people critically you bring danger upon yourself"
At the end of his life Confucius saw himself as a failure with limited influence to make China a place of peace and justice.

So much of his story and desire to lead (and succeed when he gets the slightest opportunity) resonates with me. In my own life and times in organizations I've come to one irrefutable truth in trying times like these: It's not the outcome but the style and grace of leadership which will be remembered.  Nothing about Confucius' life was easy. The narrator sums it up nicely: "He had suffered blows that might've broken a sensitive young man, the terrors of desperate poverty, the heartache of callous rejection. But Confucius would transform life's bitter assaults into powerful, unforgettable lessons."  I can relate to this even more after the course in Leadership and Hardiness. Finally Confucius concluded that despite his desire to end suffering and misery, he was one man and he chose to live amongst humans therefore he resigned himself to the limits of human power.

Taoist Hermit

I remember reading a snippet on Lao Tzu once and it said he grew so fed up with the war and strife of China that he opted to leave human society forever.  He was stopped at the outskirts of town and asked to write down his wisdom. He did, handed it over and was never seen or heard from again.

Papyrus roll from about 1000 B.C.After wandering Confucius settled down again in Lu for the last few years of his life still seeking to transform China. He remained amongst humanity but isolated himself in a library. It is interesting to note how these great leaders both were fed up with humanity and chose to live their lives in isolation rather than conform to the lifestyle China had chosen for its people. 

What have I discovered in all of this? Confucianism plays a prominent role in today's China. Confucius is a name world-renowned. When the Confucius of my life shows up...I am going to listen deeply.  Although I am not sure which choice I will make when I can no longer advocate for humanity. I will have to discover more about what Confucius says.

Sunday, March 31, 2013

Understanding Lao Tzu's Do Nothing Approach
Lao Tzu
In our required text we've read some interesting advice from Lao Tzu, book 38 in Tao Te Ching: do nothing but leave nothing undone. Well, this paradox intrigues me. How is that even possible? If I lie around and sleep will my paper, portfolio and seminar questions get done?

The Master doesn't try to be powerful;
thus he is truly powerful.
The ordinary man keeps reaching for power;
thus he never has enough.

The Master does nothing,
yet he leaves nothing undone.
The ordinary man is always doing things,
yet many more are left to be done.

The kind man does something,
yet something remains undone.
The just man does something,
and leaves many things to be done.
The moral man does something,
and when no one responds
he rolls up his sleeves and uses force.

When the Tao is lost, there is goodness.
When goodness is lost, there is morality.
When morality is lost, there is ritual.
Ritual is the husk of true faith,
the beginning of chaos.

Therefore the Master concerns himself
with the depths and not the surface,
with the fruit and not the flower.
He has no will of his own.
He dwells in reality,
and lets all illusions go.

I practiced my own version of doing nothing for quite awhile these last few weeks. In part it's exhaustion, in part it's lack of interest and in still another part it's facing the obligation I committed myself to two and a half years ago to finish what I started despite everything in me screaming not to do it.  Over the weeks of doing nothing I've come to realize I needed to get quiet, press the unimportant to the peripherals and tackle only those things which advance my path. Doing nothing outside of this preferred path is a concept I now understand but have yet to fully implement.

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Entering...the Capstone

The moment is finally here...the last class before graduation. Again, it's not exactly what I expected. Rather than a critical paper it is...well more of the same.  The forum participation, the reading, group participation and a whole lot of people who (if they are anything like me) have an eagle eye on the finish line.  It feels a lot like work in that we coordinate in groups to give our two cents on topics, create a joint schedule for our project, cross our fingers and hope for the best. I know my heart isn't it. I'm not sure how as a leader one would own this process. It amazes me how so many of us can show up again and again for work that needs to be done but provides no nourishment.

The text reminds me of undergrad where we read cherry picked essays of  some of the greatest thinkers of English literature. Although the selection for this class is more broad and abridged it is oddly enough some of the same stuff I read in undergrad. Back then I didn't realize how good the work was until I read the not so great work of the same period.

But wait, there's more--the individual project requires putting a portfolio together. I'm not certain what the goal of this portfolio is but I am trying hard to scrape my exhausted fanny off the floor and just do the work so I can be done with it. I am also looking for others sources of inspiration to keep my spirits up while I push through the final class.

Saturday, February 9, 2013

Graduate School: Two Year Reflection 

When I first started graduate school two plus years ago I felt like a tiny tree in a forest of towering giants. I felt overwhelmed and wondered if I could withstand the weight of the assignments.  During the first course while reading Pedagogy of the Oppressed I temporarily thought about quitting. I am grateful I finished the book and learned the valuable lesson that oppressors are also oppressed. Seeing this has helped me stop the cycle of oppression by not participating in it--even when oppressors bully me.

I am grateful that about a third of the way through the program I was assigned to write a reflective blog; as I re-read these blog posts I see the changes in my thinking, my growth as a human being, as a leader and in how others perceive me. Each post was not necessarily tied to the curriculum rather it was an opportunity to dig deeper into a curiosity related to the class theme. Through personally challenging myself to develop further insights and reflect on these insights I see how I have woven the graduate school knowledge into new life choices.

What has changed?

I am at once more committed to helping others yet equally hesitant in choosing whom to help. This is not a judgment issue rather I've come to terms there are some people, situations and organizations I am not able to help right now and I do not want to drain my energy on these sources. With this realization I have finished projects I gave my word on and upon completion I tied off the connection, I released unhealthy acquaintanceships and detached myself from negativity (both in my internal and external world). I feel like I have outgrown the old me, released what was no longer serving me and  I am now ready to make better decisions, choose with whom and how I will spend my time so that I may, ultimately, do good.

This program has not had the strong academic influence I thought I would find, rather it has been a program in which I've willingly reshaped myself and my actions.  Perhaps the online format and disconnection from the classroom and rigorous academic thinking is part of it. I'm doubly grateful for this blog as the lessons I've learned from graduate school are the ones here, mine. Is this a bad thing?  I might've said yes before, but I have to say now I know myself so much better and I am a much clearer thinker. I have a big picture view in which most people need days before they can appreciate my perspective. People come to me regularly with their toughest questions and sometimes I answer them directly (if it's a technical thing) and other times I simply listen and ask probing questions. These people leave with a satisfying answer.

Is that enough for a graduate leadership program? I say it is.