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.