Me in the Middle of Leadership Part II (Reblog)

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Pixabay

The past ten months of the presidency under the current administration has left many exasperated and alarmed about where we’re heading as a country.  Last year, when I decided to do this Leadership series, I was getting increasingly alarmed as the campaign for Election 2016 was drawing to a close.  What kind of Leadership does the United States of America need during these critical times?  Each of the three posts are long yet provocative and inspiring.  (You can read the comments on the original post 10/2016 Part II HERE)

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This is the second post on what qualities make a good Leader.  The first ~ What Kind of Leadership is Needed for Our Time by Heather Plett ~ looked at Leaders as Host rather than Leaders as Heroes.
My good intentions have been not to get political on this blog.  I hope to explore these qualities without picking a particular candidate or bashing a particular candidate.  It seems the campaign season here in America has gotten way off track.  It’s become almost impossible to explore what Leadership means much less what kind of Leadership America needs at this time.
Today I’ve chosen a post by Arthur Rashapwww.promiseamericaindicator.com.   I’d love to hear what you think of Arthur’s definition of Winners or Losers and the qualities to look for in our Leaders.

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“Our society is replete today with a focus on winning. Rather than focusing on informing the public about positions, possibilities and programs, the candidates for public office (and the office holders once elected or appointed) seek attention and headlines by playing the game of personal invective and catering to their ‘fans.’ They make promises to attract contributions and votes, promises that they hope will get them to the “winner’s circle.” The media and the ‘reporters’ and pundits are obsessed with looking to see who “won” a debate, or who is winning their election ‘game’ as is predicted by the daily polls that get changed more often than the diaper of a six month old. We get a break-down of the supporters for the players in such games – which ends up creating substantial animosity between the groups.”

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ARE WE WINNERS OR LOSERS?

  •  “Winning isn’t everything, it is the only thing”UCLA Bruins Football Coach Henry Russell (“Red”) Sanders (not Vince Lombardi who did use this).
  • “It’s not that you won or lost, but how you played the game” – Grandland Rice.
  • The most important thing . . . is not winning but taking part”Pierre de Cubetin, Modern Olympic Creed.

Somewhere in the evolution of humans the concept of winning and losing – of being a winner or a loser – came into play. Think of the consequences of that concept: wars; slavery; sexism; discrimination of all kinds; the great disparity in income and assets; power being lodged in the hands of a few; ageism, and on and on.

There have been societies where the concept of equality reigns. There are societies where humans regard themselves as just being a part of the overall ecosystem with all living things support each other. The societies in today’s world have been largely minimized by “progress” and the taming and exploitation of the environment for those at the top of the food chain – we the modern day humans.

The underpinnings of religion aren’t involved with winners and losers: “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.” Don’t beat them into the ground and exploit them for your own benefit. The examples set by those who have been the founders and acknowledged leaders of religions and spiritual movements – the way they lived their lives – demonstrated that they honored and helped all peoples, not singling out winners and losers. The sermons delivered weekly to congregations by their religious leaders ring high and mighty about being kind, generous, live simply– and how to live our lives according to these words is too often left in the sanctuary as the congregants file out.

Powell Davis, a prolific author of theological books and sermon collections, who came to national prominence in the U.S. through his liberal activism advocating civil rights for African-Americans and women and ethical stands against post-war nuclear proliferation and the methods employed by the American government during the era of McCarthyism, noted in this vein: “So far as I can see, all the great leaders—and the great exemplars of religion—possessed faith in life’s essence, in its hidden meaning, in its moral claim, and in the rightness of its inner spiritual guidance. And by this the great ones lived their lives. So must we. There are no problems greater than our power to solve them. There are no burdens greater than our strength. We shape—by every moment of our lives—the great decisions. Then let us venture still!”

Our society is replete today with a focus on winning. Rather than focusing on informing the public about positions, possibilities and programs, the candidates for public office (and the office holders once elected or appointed) seek attention and headlines by playing the game of personal invective and catering to their ‘fans.’ They make promises to attract contributions and votes, promises that they hope will get them to the “winner’s circle.” The media and the ‘reporters’ and pundits are obsessed with looking to see who “won” a debate, or who is winning their election ‘game’ as is predicted by the daily polls that get changed more often than the diaper of a six month old. We get a break-down of the supporters for the players in such games – which ends up creating substantial animosity between the groups.

And, isn’t all of this mostly a narcissistic ploy with one object – to be a winner, and leave all the others behind! So, look in the mirror, look to your left and your right, look around at all those who people your life, understand who is supporting the standard raised that our goal in life, our goal from the time we are old enough to go out and kick a ball, is to be a winner. That part of us – our ego – whose prime purpose is to provide protection so we don’t step off the curb and get hit by a bus wants to ‘win’ the game of who is in control of ‘us.’ It thrives and grows with all the accouterments of being a winner and does its best to take over to drive toward that goal and result.

Substantial awards – monetary for those who are “professionals” – are awarded to winners. Those players who are playing the infinite game, who complement their opponents, who are courteous and caring, who are observed doing the best that they can do in their current human condition, fall mostly in the category of “losers.”

What would happen if games were played in the context that they are all – in the end – part of the “Game of Life.” We are in it to play, to perpetuate the game, to do the best we can at the level of being part of the “ONE” of all life?

We are told that those who kill more of their enemies than the other side become ‘winners.’ This last century, there were well over 100 wars and many more than that number of conflicts that involved loss of life let alone damage to property and the environment. That then results in lots of “losers” – particularly in contests where there are one or several winners and many more non-winners or losers. Our views and rhetoric in politics, in sports, in relationships – in pretty much everything we ‘do’ are structured (too often) by this concept of winners and losers.

I would like to lift up the concepts advanced by James P. Carse, in a little book published in 1986 entitled: Finite and Infinite Games. His Chapter 1: “There are at least two kinds of games. One could be called finite, the other infinite. A finite game is played for the purpose of winning, an infinite game for the purpose of continuing the game. Carse, who was a Professor of Religion at New York University and winner of the University’s Great Teacher Award, concludes the book in Chapter 100: “Infinite players are not serious actors in any story, but the joyful poets of a story that continues to originate what they cannot finish.” Then there is Chapter 101: “THERE IS BUT ONE INFINITE GAME.”

If, indeed, “We the People” are interconnected and understand that we are all part of the same gift of life and all are here to share and preserve the gifts we have been given and that one of our obligations and/or opportunities is to help advance the quality of life – life for all, – then it would seem that playing each and all games as if each and all were in and playing the Game of Life, with the understanding that the ‘bottom line’ of the game – whatever it may be – is to play and do the best you can do at that time and at that place.

If, because of our history, our education,

If, because of our DNA and evolutionary impulse,

If, because it does feel good to be declared special,

If, because to be heard and have our ideas for the greater good advanced,

If, because it is valuable to have our egos satisfied,

If we are willing to sacrifice much of what exists on this planet and perhaps elsewhere –

Then keep playing the finite game.

But how about taking a step back, opening your mind, heart and soul . . . and reprogramming to play the infinite game? Go on, it really is fun.

 Arthur Rashap

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The Power of the Dream

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Me in the Middle of Leadership Part I (Reblog)

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The past ten months of the presidency under the current administration has left many exasperated and alarmed about where we’re heading as a country.  Last year, when I decided to do this Leadership series, I was getting increasingly alarmed as the campaign for Election 2016 was drawing to a close.  What kind of Leadership does the United States of America need during these critical times?  Each of the three posts are long yet provocative and inspiring.  Beginning with Part I, I’d like to invite you to comment below on this critical question (You can read the comments on the original post 10/2016 HERE.) :

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This post, along with my next two posts, is going to help me explore my thoughts about what qualities make a good leader.

My good intentions have been not to get political on this blog.  I hope to explore these qualities without picking a particular candidate or bashing a particular candidate.  It seems the campaign season here in America has gotten way off track.  It’s become almost impossible to explore what Leadership means much less what kind of Leadership America needs at this time.

Today I’ve chosen a post by Heather Plett @ www.heatherplett.com.   I’d love to hear what you think of Heather’s definition of Leadership and the qualities to look for in that person.

“We need leaders – at ALL levels of our governments, institutions, communities, and families – who can dance with complexity, play with possibility, and sit with their fear. We need leaders who can navigate the darkness. We need leaders who can hold seemingly opposing views and not lose sight of the space in between. We need leaders who know how to hold liminal space.” 

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What kind of leadership is needed for our time?
By Heather Plett ~ www.heatherplett.com

“Can’t you just give us clear direction so we know what’s expected of us?” That question was asked of me ten years ago by a staff person who was frustrated with my collaborative style of leadership. He didn’t want collaboration – he simply wanted direction and clarity and top-down decision making.

What I read between the lines was this: “It makes me feel more safe when I know what’s expected of me.” And maybe a little of this: “If you’re the one making decisions and giving directions, I don’t have to share any collective responsibility. If anything goes wrong, I can blame the boss and walk away with my reputation intact.”

I didn’t change my leadership style, but it made me curious about what different people want from leadership and why. While that staff person was expressing a desire for more direction, others on my team were asking for more autonomy and decision-making power. It seemed impossible to please everyone.

I’ve been thinking back to that conversation lately as I watch the incredulous rise to power of Donald Trump. No matter how many sexist comments he makes, no matter how many people with disabilities he makes fun of, and no matter how many small business owners he cheated, his support base remains remarkably solid. As he himself has said, he “could shoot someone and not lose votes”. (I’m glad I’m no longer teaching a course on public relations, because he’s breaking all of the “rules” I used to teach and getting away with it.)

It seems implausible that this could happen, but this article on Trump’s appeal to authoritarian personalities helps me make sense of it. 

“‘Trump’s electoral strength — and his staying power — have been buoyed, above all, by Americans with authoritarian inclinations,” political scientist Matthew MacWilliams wrote in Politico. In an online poll of 1,800 Americans, conducted in late December, he found an authoritarian mindset — that is, belief in absolute obedience to authority — was the sole “statistically significant variable” that predicted support for Trump.”

“Authoritarians obey,” says the author of the study, “They rally to and follow strong leaders. And they respond aggressively to outsiders, especially when they feel threatened.”

Authoritarians hold strong values around safety, and they expect a leader to give them what they need. They don’t mind following a bully, as long as that bully is serving THEIR needs for security. Hence the popularity of Trump’s proposals to build a wall on the Mexican border and to keep Muslims from entering the country. They might even put up with some of the bullying directed at people like them (hence the surprising tolerance of Trump’s behaviour among his female supporters) if it means those who threaten them are kept at bay. Take, for example, the times when Trump told security to throw the protesters out of the places where he was campaigning – he made his supporters feel safe because he was roughing up “the enemy”.

Where does an authoritarian mindset come from? According to the article quoted above, there is evidence that it is passed down from one generation to the next. Religious views can also play a strong role. Those who were conditioned by upbringing and religion to obey the authority figures at all cost are more likely to vote for someone who reflects that kind of leadership. If you grew up never allowed to question authority, no matter how illogical or unbalanced it might seem, then you are more likely to have an authoritarian mindset.

There is also a correlation with how fearful a person tends to be. Those who are, due to personality and/or conditioning, frequently motivated by fear, will be more inclined to trust authoritarian leaders because that’s what makes them feel more safe.

Does it matter that some of us prefer authoritarian leadership over other styles? Shouldn’t the rest of us simply adapt a “live and let live” attitude about it and not try to change people? Don’t we all have a right to our own opinions?

Though I am deeply committed to holding space for people in a non-judgemental way (and I tried to create that environment when I was leading the people I mentioned above) I am convinced that it DOES matter. Yes, we should respect and listen without judgement to those who look for authoritarianism, and we should seek to understand their fear, but that doesn’t mean that we should allow their fear and social conditioning to make major decisions about who leads us and how we are lead. That authoritarian mindset is a sign of an immature society and it is holding us back. It must be challenged for the sake of our future.

Around the same time as my staff person asked for more authoritarian leadership from me, I was immersing myself in progressive teachings on leadership such as The Circle Way, The Art of Hosting, and Theory U. These methodologies teach that there is a “leader in every chair”, that the “wisdom comes from within the circle”, and that “the future is emerging and not under our control”. Though these models can (and do) function within hierarchical structures, they teach us to value the wisdom and leadership at ALL levels of the hierarchy.

Margaret Wheatley and Deborah Frieze (two people I had the pleasure of studying with in my quest for a deeper understanding about leadership), in this article on Leadership in the Age of Complexity and in their book Walk Out Walk On, say that it is time to move from “leader as hero” to “leader as host”. 

“For too long, too many of us have been entranced by heroes. Perhaps it’s our desire to be saved, to not have to do the hard work, to rely on someone else to figure things out. Constantly we are barraged by politicians presenting themselves as heroes, the ones who will fix everything and make our problems go away. It’s a seductive image, an enticing promise. And we keep believing it. Somewhere there’s someone who will make it all better. Somewhere, there’s someone who’s visionary, inspiring, brilliant, trustworthy, and we’ll all happily follow him or her.”

This style of leadership may have served humanity during a simpler time, but that time is past. Now we are faced with so much complexity that we cannot rely on an outdated style of leadership.

“Heroic leadership rests on the illusion that someone can be in control. Yet we live in a world of complex systems whose very existence means they are inherently uncontrollable. No one is in charge of our food systems. No one is in charge of our schools. No one is in charge of the environment. No one is in charge of national security. No one is in charge! These systems are emergent phenomena—the result of thousands of small, local actions that converged to create powerful systems with properties that may bear little or no resemblance to the smaller actions that gave rise to them. These are the systems that now dominate our lives; they cannot be changed by working backwards, focusing on only a few simple causes.  And certainly they cannot be changed by the boldest visions of our most heroic leaders.”

Instead of a hero, we need a host. A leader-as-host knows that problems are complex and that in order to understand the full complexity of any issue, all parts of the system need to be invited in to participate and contribute. “These leaders‐as‐hosts are candid enough to admit that they don’t know what to do; they realize that it’s sheer foolishness to rely only on them for answers. But they also know they can trust in other people’s creativity and commitment to get the work done.”

A leader-as-host provides conditions and good group process for people to work together, provides resources, helps protect the boundaries, and offers unequivocal support.

In other words, a host leader holds space for the work to happen, for the issues to be wrestled with, and for the emergence of what is possible from within the circle.

Unlike a host leader, an authoritarian leader hangs onto the past as a model for the future. Consider Trump’s “Make America Great Again” slogan. Instead of holding space for emergence, he knows that his support base clings to the ideal of a simpler, more manageable time. It’s not hard to understand, in this time of complexity, how it can feel more safe to harken back to the past when less was expected of us and the boundaries were more clear. Don’t we all, for example, sometimes wish we could be back in our childhood homes when all that was expected of us was that we clean up our toys before bedtime?

But we “can’t go back home again”. The future will emerge with or without us. We can only hope that the right kind of leadership can and will arise (within us and around us) that will help us adapt and grow into it. If not, our planet will suffer, our marginalized people will continue to be disadvantaged, and justice will never be served for those who have been exploited.

In his book, Leading from the Emerging Future, Otto Scharmer talks about leadership not being about individuals, but about the capacity of the whole system. “The essence of leadership has always been about sensing and actualizing the future. It is about crossing the threshold and stepping into a new territory, into a future that is different from the past. The Indo-European root of the English word leadership, leith, means “to go forth,” “to cross a threshold,” or “to die.” Letting go often feels like dying. This deep process of leadership, of letting go and letting the new and unknown come, of dying and being reborn, probably has not changed much over the course of human history. The German poet Johan Wolfgang von Goethe knew it well when he wrote, ‘And if you don’t know this dying and birth, you are merely a dreary guest on Earth.’”

What he’s talking about is essentially the liminal space that I wrote about in the past. It’s the space between stories, when nobody is in control and the best we can do is to hold space for the emerging future. We, as a global collective, are in that liminal space in more ways than one.

With Wheatley and Scharmer, I would argue that an important part of our roles as leaders in this age of complexity is to hospice the death of our old ideas about leadership so that new ideas can be born. Authoritarianism will not serve us in the future. It will not help us address the complexity of climate change. It will not help us address racial or gender inequity. 

We need leaders – at ALL levels of our governments, institutions, communities, and families – who can dance with complexity, play with possibility, and sit with their fear. We need leaders who can navigate the darkness. We need leaders who can hold seemingly opposing views and not lose sight of the space in between. We need leaders who know how to hold liminal space. 

This is not meant to be a political post, and so I won’t tell you who to vote for (partly because I am Canadian and partly because I’m not sure any candidate in any election I’ve witnessed truly reflects the kind of leadership I’m talking about – they are, after all, products of a system we’ve created which may no longer work for the future).

Instead, I will ask you… how is this style of leadership showing up in your own life? Are you serving as host or hero? Are you holding space for the emerging future? And are you asking it of the leaders that you follow and/or elect? Or are you still clinging to the past and hoping the right hero will ride in on a white horse to save us?

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Hero ~ Mariah Carey

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And then a hero comes along
With the strength to carry on
And you cast your fears aside
And you know you can survive
So when you feel like hope is gone
Look inside you and be strong
And you’ll finally see the truth
That a hero lies in you

Me in the Middle of World Records (#6Words)

Guinness Book of World Records

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Eli, Coach Daddy, compiles a monthly post called ‘6 Words’.  Ernest Hemingway inspired it when he said any story can be told in six words. He asks bloggers, friends, strangers, and a few strange blogger friends to respond to a prompt.

Here’s the prompt:

Imagine you made it into the Guinness Book of Records. What did you do to get your name in there?  See #14 for my 6 *Sarcastic* Words here!

stormtrooper beach photo credit: Pawel Maryanov Left via photopin(license)

I coulda been in the Guinness book.

GAD GRAPHICNo, really. My plan: To coach soccer for 24 hours straight. Twenty-four one-hour sessions, with kids signed up around the clock. (I’d get college kids to fill the overnight hours.) One boy on my team wanted to camp out and participate in as many hours as possible.

It never happened.

We’d planned it as a fundraiser for a teammate who’d been diagnosed with leukemia. The Guinness folks said if it was tied to a charity, it wouldn’t count. And that’s okay. That teammate? He went into remission.

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Me in the Middle Traveling with My Baggalini 4th Week

This past Wednesday was the fourth and last class of the Memories to Memoirs  writing course that I’m taking with OLLI ~ Osher Lifelong Learning Institute @ UVA.   The assignment was to write about ‘an item in my closet that I still use and that holds lots of memories for me’.  Here’s the link to the third class ….. (Me in the Middle of Memories of Opening the Door)

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My Travel Companion

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 In 1995, two flight attendants looking for a travel companion that would be stylish with many pockets, founded Baggalini.  Baggalini Crossbody Travel Bags make it easier to move from place to place with a sense of safety and security while keeping everything you need at your fingertips and in its place.  Just what I was looking for when I set out on my first foreign trip to England in 2001.

This bag, tucked away on the top shelf in my closet, has since been my travel companion on many exciting and happy memories.  It seemed to be the perfect choice for this week’s writing assignment ~ ‘Write about an item in your closet that you still use and holds many memories.’  Foreign travel to the Middle East and Ireland were trips of a lifetime.  Air travel to see family in Arizona, Ohio and Vermont were made easier with this little bag, especially when I had mobility issues with the onset of age-related medical problems. 

There was a time when I thought the opportunity to travel by air would never happen for me and my Baggalini reminds me that dreams do come true no matter how old you are.  It will remain on the top shelf of my closet, within my reach, for those spontaneous moments when the chance to travel becomes a reality once again.  Life is a Journey! 

Baggalini Co-Founder

 

Ready to Go! Get Organized!

Me in the Middle of Memories of Opening the Door ~ 3rd Week

This past Wednesday was the third class of the Memories to Memoirs  writing course that I’m taking with OLLI ~ Osher Lifelong Learning Institute @ UVA.   The assignment was to write about ‘Opening the Door’ to a room in our childhood home; describing the room, what was happening and how I felt.  Here’s the link to the second class ….. (Me in the Middle of Memories to Memoirs 2nd Week)
 
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Opening the Door

Cellar door #1

The Basement of our home was a special place holding a lot of memories for us kids when we were growing up.  It had three entrances:  the stairway leading down from our kitchen; the slanted cellar door that you pulled up from the outside and descended down a set of cement stairs; and the coal chute that slid the coal deliveries into a pile next to the furnace.  Each corner of the basement housed interesting things: the huge sink that the clothes washer would drain into; the piles of magazines; the old furniture not in use; garment bags hanging on a hook; even an old locked treasure chest that we’d play with imagining what might be inside.  Later we would learn that our grandfather, in the early days, used the basement as a still for making alcohol  

The basement was also the place where my father worked on carpentry projects and  my brother, J, would keep frogs and fish there that he collected in the swamp during the spring and summer.   During the wintertime, on days when it snowed Mom would have us go downstairs in the basement to take off all our outer clothes after sleigh riding and building snowmen.  I could recall the smell of the musty-dusty air and feel the damp darkness as I started down the steep wooden stairs from the kitchen.  I could almost feel again the tingly feeling in my toes as I pulled off my boots at the bottom of the stairs, picking off the clumps of ice that had been captured inside my boot and plastered to my socks.  Peeling off those stiff, frozen socks would reveal bright red toes that I was sure would never feel alive again.   The saving grace was the coal furnace in the corner at the opposite side of the cellar that would be chugging away with the sounds of the roaring fire.  It was kept fueled by my father who, every morning in the winter, would shovel the daily supply of coal into it.

There was a sense of freedom and adventure for me in that basement on the gray winter days that kept us more indoors than outdoors.  There was a pole in the center of the room about half a foot round.   I would hang onto that pole and skate around in the new roller skates I got for Christmas.  There were also the pretend games of me being Dale Evans and I would throw a paper lariat that would hum in a low continuous tone when it circled at top speed over my head.  When we were ready to climb back out of our fantasy worlds, there would be hot chocolate and oatmeal cookies waiting for us in the kitchen, where Mom was ready to listen to our adventures of the day.  In recalling the feelings of safety and security I felt while having the freedom to let my imagination soar in the basement of the only home I knew as a child, I’m grateful for these early beginnings in the 40s and 50s.

 

 

Images from Pixabay