Good afternoon, the sky and sea are grey today, but it is an improvement from Sunday morning’s snow! Snow in Vancouver in March?! It was a shocker! The snow stayed away just long enough for a very special event in our part of ‘church land’ here. Melissa Skelton was consecrated and then installed as the 9th Anglican Bishop of New Westminster on Saturday. It was an amazing day for her, I’m sure, as it was for me and my friends in the diocese.
Being a Bishop is somewhat like being a CEO, and Melissa’s credentials, including an MBA from Chicago, executive experience at Proctor and Gamble and Tom’s of Maine will serve her well in the many parts of her new role that are very CEO like. In all the pomp and pageantry (as only Anglicans/Episcopalians can really muster), one moment stood out for me. Having been consecrated Melissa approached the doors of the cathedral and knocked on the door. http://www.vancouversun.com/news/Video+Melissa+Skelton+installed+bishop+Diocese+Westminster/9568483/story.html The knocking is analogous to the CEO knocking in the doors of the head office! You see, in the Anglican tradition, the executive leadership, the Bishop, asks permission of the community to enter, and therefore to lead. (For those of you in the Commonwealth, you’ll immediately see the similarity to the Royal Representative or the Queen, knocking on the door of the House of Commons to read the Speech from the Throne.) The symbolism is profound; leaders lead only because there are followers. If the followers do not trust you, the end of your power is very close. It was a profound moment to hear the knock, and to welcome the new Bishop in to her/our cathedral.
And then I read this piece my friend and colleague Dixie Black offered in the Notes for this past Sunday’s Bulletin. It’s the late poet and philosopher John O’Donoghue reflecting on leadership. I hope you’ll take the time to reflect on it.
May the gift of leadership awaken in you as a vocation,
Keep you mindful of the providence that calls you to serve.
As high over the mountains the eagle spreads its wings,
May your perspective be larger than the view from the foothills.
When the way is flat and dull in times of gray endurance,
May your imagination continue to evoke horizons.
When thirst burns in times of drought,
May you be blessed to find the wells.
May you have the wisdom to read time clearly,
And know when the seed of change will flourish.
In your heart may there be a sanctuary
For the stillness where clarity is born.
May your work be infused with passion and creativity
And have the wisdom to balance compassion and challenge.
May your soul find the graciousness
To rise above the fester of small mediocrities.
May your power never become a shell
Wherein your heart would silently atrophy.
May you welcome your own vulnerability
As the ground where healing and truth meet.
May integrity of soul be your first ideal,
The source that will guide and bless your work.
May we find this week the courage to knock on the doors to see if we’ll be invited inside the lives and work of those with whom we work.
Good afternoon, the sun is poking through scattered clouds and the flowers are peering out of the soil! After 3 days of snow earlier in the week, it is wonderful to see and smell Spring arriving. I hope it arrives for you literally and metaphorically soon!
I’ve been sifting through this month’s Fast Company magazine in between projects. There is a great piece about the “Most Creative People” and in the midst of the article, a small little graphic about the biggest barrier to creativity in business. In ascending order, the barriers are government 1%, office politics 2%, conflicts with others, 3%, quarterly profit demands 11%, bureaucracy 23%, inertia 28% and fear of the new 32%. (Fast Company February 2014 p, 49)
Now there are a few directions we might take with this little bit of data. I am though intrigued by the three biggest, bureaucracy, inertia and fear of the new. I am reminded of one of my favorite books, business or otherwise, of the last 20 years, Gordon MacKenzie’s https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/100469.Orbiting_the_Giant_Hairball . This remarkable book explores the question, where is creativity in business. MacKenzie relates a wonderful story of creating a job at Hallmark, where he worked for 30 years. The job was called the “Creative Paradox”.’ He would sit in his office, and people would come in from all over the massive organization and pitch ideas to him. He would say simply, “yes, sounds like a good idea.” Every single time. Yes. And so the pitchers would go back to their respective departments and say something like, “Creative Paradox at head office likes the idea”, and hearing that management would more than likely agree, not wanting to risk the wrath of someone at head office called the “Creative Paradox”! In one fell swoop MacKenzie had reduced the bureaucratic barrier, the inertia barrier and the fear of the new. Frankly, not all of the ideas actually had legs, but some did, and they were implemented to the benefit of the organization.
Now, some 16 years after he wrote the book, and 15 years after his untimely death, Fast Company notes that the issues MacKenzie fought so hard to change still remain. While the job title of Creative Paradox might not work anymore, his main role, to say ‘yes’ certainly would. We live in a time filled with fear. We live in a time when our governments, our mainstream media and our own conversations with each other, often turn to fear and fear mongering. We are enslaved by fear. So here are three things you can do starting right now to break the chains of fear:
1. Do something different every day. Come home or go to work by a different route, go to a different restaurant, have a different date night with your partner, go for a walk through the neighbourhood, rather than watching TV tonight….
2. Say yes to yourself about a dream. If your dream has been to go skydiving, go for it, if it’s been to learn to sing, go for it, if it’s been to ask someone out, go for it.
3. Smile at people on the street. Seriously, smile at people on the street. There are no zombies, there are no vampires, the people on the street, or the subway, or the bus are people just like you and me and they are generally speaking not dangerous at all. So smile at them. You’ll feel better and so will they. And slowly but surely, you’ll find that you are more courageous, and the community you live and work in is no longer as scary a place.
And we’ll see that creativity appears that much more regularly in our working and social lives.
May this week give us time find some creative courage.
Good afternoon from an overcast and windy Vancouver. I count myself fortunate though not to be covered in snow and cold, like so much of the continent. Spring is coming, really, Spring is coming!
I’ve been reflecting today how really strong our ego’s can be. By ego I mean that part of us that thrives on being praised, acknowledged, given pats on the back and generally admired. Some of us have quite powerful egos, (like me) and others are blessed with different gifts! One of the challenges for us as leaders is to navigate the stormy waters between healthy self-esteem, and a Gollum like ego that hungers after attention. (I wrote back in November about that Gollum part of us http://www.alisdairsmith.com/index.php/leadership-notes/78-gollums-and-intention )
Once again I am reminded that we do not clear our egos/Gollums aside as we mature and grow, rather we can find a way to respect and honour them, to bring them into our lives, but not let them run our lives. And then, every now and then, something will trigger their return to the fore. What is important is to recognize that they have returned, and not to lose control of our actions and behaviours. And this can be a very difficult thing to do in a leadership position, when the ‘slings and arrows’ are flying in every direction, and the situation in which we find ourselves is precarious or frustrating. I was thinking of this kind of thing when reminded the other day of the sad ‘meltdown’ of Kony2012 film maker Jason Russell after very public criticism of the Kony2012 story and video.
If you find that your Gollum, or your frustration has been triggered, here are a couple of simple steps to help alleviate the situation and to help ensure that you do not hurt anyone, including yourself.
1. Work out. Go for a run/walk, lift some weights, do yoga, whatever it is that gets oxygen to your brain. Your brain knows that your ego is there, and with oxygenated blood flowing, it will more likely be able to help calm the ego down a little and get some perspective.
2. Remember, your ego is telling you a story. And it’s only a true story if you believe it to be true. During a dark time in my life, I learned to use a breathing exercise with a sort of mantra. Breathing in and out I would focus on my breath and say to myself, breathe in reality, breathe out fantasy. I’d do this a few times and find myself getting clearer that my ego was a great story teller, but would often be making assumptions about what other people were doing or thought.
We all have our moments. We have good moments and mad moments, but those moments do not make up the whole day.
May this week give us time to honour our ego/gollums, again.
Good afternoon from a sunny Vancouver. We're sitting between two storms; one last night, the second coming tonight. In the meantime, we're enjoying the sun!
I'm in the midst of one of the situations that triggers my frustration level! There is a technology issue! The free 3 month preview of Siriusxm radio on my new car has now taken over 2 hours to get set up! This should be a simple matter of registering an id number on line and then waiting for the satellite signal to find my car; 15 or 20 minutes I was told. Not so much. In fact I've been thinking that perhaps I should become an international criminal because apparently satellites cannot find this car!
I share this with you, not to complain, as a matter of fact, the humans I've spoken with this afternoon have been very empathetic and helpful. Rather, to share that it is at times like this, that I like to check in with myself about what's going on, and how best I can respond.
I'm aware for example that it's generally not people who frustrate me, I can usually engage with a person to gain common understanding of the grey world in which we live. The binary world though, the 0/1, yes/no, black/white world of technology can raise my blood pressure. And then the question for me becomes, how do I then work when I'm frustrated? I've learned that by taking deep breaths, taking some time out, I can remember that my frustration is with the technology and not with the person trying to help.
I wonder then what frustrates you? Can you get clear about the specifics and then work out appropriate responses. You'll find I'm sure that once you're clear about the specifics, the level of frustration and its duration will be lower. That's been my experience!
May this week give us time to explore what frustrates us, and how can we learn to grow with those frustrations.
Good morning from a cold and clear Vancouver. This part of Canada has finally been hit by the cold snap! It’s going up to 0 Celcius today, and there could be snow on Sunday! Yikes! We can now feel a little more connected with our brothers and sisters in places like Calgary, where it was -25 last night at the airport! (or so we like to think!)
I’m just back from a wonderful leadership development session with a group of emerging credit union leaders, and I’m charged! On the plane flying home last night, I was thinking about how important wisdom transfer was. You see, I was about 30 years older than some of the participants in the workshop. I was reminded about a session with a group of men on a Saturday morning in a few weeks ago. A breakfast and speaker series, I’ve attended when able for a number of years, this Men’s Breakfast brings together about 30 men from around Vancouver in a safe and confidential place to explore issues of life, growth, spirituality, and psychology for and by men. This particular breakfast speaker was one of our own and an elder among us. In short, he had about 30 years on some of the men in the room. (I’ll honour the confidentiality of the room and not mention names.)
This elder was inspiring, challenging and provocative, and I loved every second of his talk. One of the more intriguing questions was, “what truth do you want to be in your life?”
What an extraordinary question and one that I think needs to be asked of all of us as leaders. If you can get the answer to the question for you, your clarity, your focus and your will and strength will grow exponentially. It’s definitely worth the investment of time to explore your answer.
May this week give us time to explore the answer to an elder’s question, what truth do you want to be in your life?
Hello, and I hope this edition of Leadership Notes finds you well and cheerful. Last week' sedition prompted some wonderful dialogue about visceral and vicarious living, and as I mentioned there, I've been inspired by a couple of speakers and a theatre experience in recent weeks.
The theatre experience was a 'show' at the PuSH Festival here in Vancouver, http://pushfestival.ca/ . It was called "The Human Library" and was presented at the main Vancouver Public Library. The idea was simple and profound; you go to a counter at the library and peruse a stack of biographies in looseleaf binders, and choose one, then 'checkout' the live person from the biography for 20 minutes. They then tell you their story. I 'checked out' a person who's biography title was "Funeral Director by Day, Comedian by Night" and then another called, "Born Again Christian". We sat 'knee to knee' for 20 minutes and they told me their 'story'. The Funeral Director/Comedian was wonderful, telling me about her need to balance the deep sadness she experienced every day with making people laugh. It was the Born Again Christian that surprised me the most and got me thinking about leadership.
You see, I have my own story about 'Christians' especially as I am one! My experience is that there are some 'Christians' who wrap their judgements about others, or wrap their sexism, homophobia or racism in a particular interpretation of the tradition, and then call themselves 'Born Again'. The title of the biography was therefore a trigger for me. As I sat down 'knee to knee' with this person, I was all set for a debate, if not argument! But, I realized, that's not what I'd do with a book, I'd read it! And so I consciously chose to listen to the story, before I challenged it or the person.
I'm so glad I did! The story was at times sad and painful, and at others inspiring and even fun. I found I had much more in common with the person than the title of her biography first suggested to me. And it was my focus on listening to the story that helped me get to that common ground. We didn't solve the issues of sexism, homophobia and racism, but by connecting at a deeper, person to person, as opposed to ideology to ideology level, we might find a way to journey into those darker waters together.
So how does this help us as leaders? I wonder if the metaphor of a library book might be helpful for us as leaders working with people who we don't 'like', or who are behaving in ways that we find challenging? Sitting down with a person who we find challenging might be easier if we think to ourselves I'm borrowing this book from the library to hear the story. I'm not 'buying' the book right now, but I am going to read it. And then, like reading a book, I have to read/hear what the author has to say, and in doing so we might find some common ground that will help move is into darker waters together.
May this week be an opportunity for each of us to read/another person's story.