header
"Today and tomorrow, the successful leader is the one who leads the process of learning."
Sir Douglas Hague

Get Leadership Notes by Email

Good morning, winter is in the air, and I saw my first Christmas decorations in a store yesterday! Yikes!
I was in a meeting yesterday with some colleagues from the Dalai Lama Centre for Peace and Education and one of our working group asked if she might share a story. I’d like to share it with you.
It seems that one day, Mother Theresa was being interviewed on a chat radio show about a particular project she was involved in. The host of the radio show had a huge following, and was quite taken with the small, vibrant woman sitting next to him. He asked, “Mother, there are a lot of people listening right now, this is a great opportunitity to invite change, what would you have us do?”
The Mother said, “oh, no, no, I’m not hear to tell you what to do, that is not what this is about.”
The host pressed on, “but this is a great opportunity to have people paying attention to your message, what can we do?”
Mother Theresa said again, “I’m not here to ask for anything from you, nor to tell you specifically what to do.”
Back and forth the conversation went, the host inviting Mother Theresa to speak to his huge audience, and Mother Thersa each time saying that was not what she was about.
Finally, in response to his persistence, she said, “all right, if you are compelled to do something, go out into the world and find a person who has no hope, and give them hope.”
What would it look like for you to give someone who has little or no hope, hope this week? 

Good morning and I hope the air is as clear and crisp for you, as it is here. I have learned over the years to pay attention to people in our society we often don’t pay attention to; like parking lot attendants and taxi drivers. I find that I sometimes learn more in a 10 second or 10 minute conversation with such people, than I learn in an hour or a day with others!

Saturday evening was one such event, a fifteen minute conversation with a cab driver from Vancouver airport to home, has really got me thinking. We were talking about the idea that some people are open, and others closed, and that there is value in both aspects; it is great to be open all the time, but we must also be prudent, that being too open might leave us unprotected and vulberable. He shared a story about standing on a street corner, waiting for the light to change and a car drove past him, and someone in the car yelled an obscenity at him about his ancestry. “I sometimes have to be closed to protect myself,” he explained. “And yet,” he continued, “I really want to meet people and learn as much as I can, and the only way to do that is to be open. This is a paradox.”

I wonder if the route into this paradox is courage. A courage, like this wonderful man exhibited, moving from a land far away, leaving behind all he knew, both good and bad, and coming here to Vancouver, an alien in a strange land, who despite racist slurs, was still willing to gracefully engage with me, and any and all customers in his taxi about matters of life, psychological health and adventure.

May we all find such courage in our lives this week.

Good morning from a beautiful and surprisingly warm fall day. I’m in the midst of a road trip that will take me back and forth across Canada a few times in the next few weeks, and as much as I miss family and home, it is an exciting time; the work is challenging, the people warm and engaging, and the travel relatively comfortable.

Best of all, I have some reflection time. I've mentioned this parable a few times with client groups in the past week, and it calls out to be told here.

Four Buddhist monks are on a journey, and coming to a raging river, they find all sorts of people drowning. Following their deep value on life, all four dive in, and start hauling people out of the river. For hours the four of them haul people out of the river. Even as they pass the point of exhaustion, they still pull people out of the river.

After many hours, one of the four pulls himself out of the water, and starts walking upstream. His fellow monks call out to him, "hey, where are you going, we've got lots of work to do here!"

Continuing his walk upstream, he calls back, "I'm going to see who's throwing them in!"

May this week have a moment of upstream thinking, planning, mitigating, and even reflection for you.

 

In last week's edition of Leadership Notes, I invited us to do an exercise. I wonder this week, how it went, how did it feel to conciously thank colleagues?

I'm becoming convinced that leadership, and other parts of our lives that involve the heavy lifting of emotional labour, require a certain emotional fitness level. In the same way that we are more resilient physically, and physically stronger when we work out, the more emotional and psychological work outs we do, the stronger psychologically and emotionally we'll be.

And of course, one doesn't simply start running a 10k run alone on day one of a new physical regime. In this journey of emotional and psycholigical strength, we each need to start off with the foundations.

So to consider some starting places, we can look at the work of psychologist William Glasser who argues that we humans are genetically driven by some foundational psychological needs;  the need to belong, the need to gain power, the need to be free, and the need to have fun. We might fullfill these needs, in their simplest form as follows:
 

1.       we fulfill the need to belong by loving, sharing and cooperating with others,

2.       we fulfill the need for power by achieving, accomplishing and being recognized and respected,

3.       We fulfill the need for freedom by making choices in our lives,

4.       We fulfil the need for fun by laughing and playing.

For us as leaders, as curious as we may be about other's needs, we need to begin with ourselves. So for this week, I wonder about where you best share and co-operate, where you best achieve, where you best make choices, and where you best laugh and play? The answers may well give you perspective on what psychological and emotional strength you have and can build upon.

Last week, working out with my trainer, we were chatting about the amazing recovery of the Chilean miners. I was talking about how moved I was by the President of Chile, hugging the foreman of the crew and the last one up, saying “your shift is finished, good work.” I was reflecting on the skills required to lead a group of men through that kind of terrible uncertainty. Ryan said that he had another client, a physician, who was connected to Medicines Sans Frontiers, who had earlier in the week observed that he found it frustrating that we’d be ‘eyes glued’ to the TV or internet for hours to watch the adventure of 33 men who knew the risks when they went underground, when thousands of women died in childbirth, and thousands of children died of malnoutrition every day.

 

A fair and important point and one that I hope we all reflect on.

 

And, as I thought about it, I realized that there was an important issue at play here. The rescue of the miners was about hope. They literally went into the darkness of the underworld, survived, and came back to the light of the surface. It is a journey we all must take as leaders. We must go into the dark places in our lives and world in order to grow and develop. The great mythic journeys from the Greeks, the journey of Siddhartha, on his way to become the Buddah, the journey of Isrealites through the Wilderness, enroute to the Promised Land, are all examples of this great human journey, and we experienced it unfolding in front of our eyes. Yes people are dying needlessly, and every now and then, we see a glimmer of hope.

 

As leaders, we might ask ourselves, what can we do to bring hope to the people in our organizations? We might ask ourselves, what dark places must we go to, in order to come back to the light, stronger and smarter?

 

It is Thanksgiving weekend here in Canada, and I’m curious about the impact of gratitude on your leadership. I tell a story about my boss in ‘church land’, Peter Elliott, the Dean of New Westminster.  I was leaving my office at the cathedral late one afternoon and I poked my head into his office and said, facetiously, “my work here is done!” He replied smiling, without skipping a beat, “not by a long shot!” I was quite touched; my work was appreciated, noticed and important, all in 5 short words.

For this week then I’d like to offer an exercise. Take the time to reflect on a leader who thanked you sincerely, and what it meant for you, and for your development. Then, pay that forward; who in your organization needs to be thanked (this could be quite a long list), and go and thank them, specifically and sincerely for their contribution and what it means for the success of the organization. And thirdly, check with yourself again, how did it feel for you to articulate that gratitiude? What did you notice inside of you about the interaction with the person?

Next week, I’ll follow up on this exercise. In the meantime, my hope is that each of us finds a person to thank, and as importantly, that each of us is thanked.