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"Kind words can be short and easy to speak, but their echoes are truly endless."
Mother Teresa

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Leadership Notes -- Thoughts on Leading People and Making a Difference in Organizations

 

Word count this issue: 493

Estimated reading time:  3:30 minutes

 

Hello from Vancouver. I hope that wherever you are today, geographically, spiritually, physically or emotionally is good.

 

I do not usually link my church land work with Leadership Notes, but I am scheduled to preach on March 5 at Christ Church Cathedral and the assigned readings include the story of Adam, Eve and the serpent. This story is among the most famous stories in the western world, and is in fact a far more complex story than we usually understand. The sermon will be posted at www.thecathedral.ca on the Monday of Tuesday of that week. In the meantime, I have been thinking a lot about it and how an element of the story speaks to leadership.

 

As you may know, G-d commands the first humans, ‘you can eat from any tree in the garden except the tree of the knowledge of good and evil.’ And pretty soon they have eaten the fruit of the tree of knowledge of good and evil and things start ago awry for them. Now there are hundreds of interpretations about this story. For our purposes, and the reason I have kept the narrative here so basic is that we humans are a curious species. If we think there is something new, or something hidden, we want to explore it. This is especially true of our youth, or when we are not inside the circle of power. If you imagine, for just a moment that God is the CEO, the circle of power, and the first humans are the staff in this organization called “Eden, Inc.” The CEO says magnanimously you can have all of these perks, but do not do this, what do you think is going to happen? Someone’s curiosity is going to be awakened. 

 

We need to have rules of the road in our organizations; none of them are paradisiacal Edens. And, remember that without explanation about why, simply saying to people you cannot do, have or be this often sets up a collision course. People will want to eat of what ever your “tree of knowledge and good and evil” is, most especially if accessing it is restricted.  The key here is to be as transparent as is possible.

 

Here are three keys to such transparency:

 

  1. Be clear about expectations; if people are not to know about something, be clear that there are restrictions
  2. Be clear about engaging; talk to people about what is accessible and what is not. 
  3. Be clear in your explanation about why there are restrictions; simply saying it is ‘above your pay grade’ is not a reasonable explanation. There are good reasons for many restrictions; personal privacy or strategic confidentiality. for example.

 

And the more accessible your trees of knowledge of good and evil are for the beginning, the less crisis management will be required.

 

 

Leadership Notes -- Thoughts on Leading People and Making a Difference in Organizations

 

Word count this issue: 380

Estimated reading time:  2:30 minutes

 

Good morning from a warming Vancouver. The spring flowers are appearing and the temperature is in the low teens celsius! Summer is coming!

 

I’ve been caught off guard this week by my Mum’s declining health. She has been in a care home for 5 or so years now and we were sure she was going over a year ago. The medical team has put her on “active dying protocol” again this week, but 24 hours later she has awakened and is eating and chatting away. She is still bedridden and sleeps most of the time, and has been telling me that she thinks it is time to go. She turns 90 in May, and I won’t be surprised if she is still with us then, active dying protocol or not!

 

I was then working with a coaching client this morning talking about responsibilities. I am aware especially this week of my own responsibilities to family and home. I, like many of us I suppose, can get hung up on the work, the gigs, the day to day management of our team and business. Then, there are our responsibilities to and for the people we love, and the responsibilities to and for ourselves. There is an old rabbinic adage that says ‘a person who does not have a single hour each day to themselves is a slave.’  

 

Our organizations should not be places where we are enslaved, either by their policies and expectations, or by our own actions driven by our own deep seated devices and desires. 

 

Here are 3 ways to build an hour for yourself each day.

 

  1. Play with your family. All to often we have family obligations, what about if you had family play time together? You playing and laughing will give you an hour of self.
  2. Exercise 30 minutes a day; take a walk early in the morning and listen as the birds awaken. Finding the next 30 minutes will be much easier once you’ve exercised.
  3. Move off social media; I guarantee you’ll find an hour a day there

 

 

Find that hour a day; your family and your work will appreciate it, and you.

 

Leadership Notes -- Thoughts on Leading People and Making a Difference in Organizations

Word count this issue: 560

Estimated reading time:  4:00 minutes

 

 

I had the great pleasure of being part of an impromptu conversation this week with theologian Richard Topping, (http://vst.edu/people/rev-dr-richard-topping ) on art and religion. In the midst of the conversation Richard referenced a Scientific American article that spoke of the relationship between Darwin’s ‘struggle for survival’ and what mathematician and evolutionary biologist Martin Nowack calls the “snuggle for survival.’”  

 

Dr. Nowack has presented a hypothesis, based on game theory that human evolution and development is as much due to cooperation and companionship as it is to competition.(https://www.scientificamerican.com/article/why-we-help/). I happen to know that similar hypotheses are being explored elsewhere; for example, Michael Tomasello’s 2009 book, Why we Cooperate, and Adam Galinsky and Maurice Schweitzer’s 2015 book, Friend and Foe. The conclusions of the research so far are intriguing; while competition is clearly evident, we are a social species for whom cooperation and companionship are vital. We need each other; there appears to be a biological  as well as social need for “snuggle.”

 

I believe that currently far too many of us believe in the ‘struggle’, and not the necessary snuggle. We laud and magnify the people who have ‘struggled’ and thrived (or who tell us that they have struggled and thrived). The messages of competition and zero sum; in sports, in reality TV, in politics, are consistent and clear; life is a struggle, there is a winner and there are losers. There is no other meaning, just winning or for most of us, losing. And sadly, it is often the losers themselves who get caught in this deadly thinking trap.

 

Quite frankly friends, this zero sum game we believe we are playing is very dangerous because it assumes that competition is the only important element in our lives. Income inequality, a lost middle class, a generation of well educated young people most of whom cannot find full and fulfilling employment, xenophobia, homophobia and sexism on the rise and the anxiety and fear driven by a real or imagined constant threat of terror are all signs of a very serious if not terminal illness. I submit that all of them are related to excessive competition, winners and losers.  We are instead to choose life. And that is the good news; that while competition can be important and healthy in many ways, cooperation and companionship is vital, it is the way of life.

 

Here are three ways to bring cooperation more fully into your life:

 

  1. Take time to reflect on all of the people who loved, supported, coached and challenged you in life, and give a prayer of thanksgiving for their contributions to your life.
  2. Be challenged by the call of wisdom a life of love and forgiveness, and that is not an easy life. To love and forgive is much more difficult than to compete and crush.
  3. Find ways of investing and participating in co-operative business models like credit unions and housing co-ops. They are amazing ways of bringing life and cooperation back into the economy. Check out Douglas Rushkoff’s 2016 book, Throwing Rocks at the Google Bus for more ideas.

 

May you find snuggling, co-operation and companionship in your work and life this week.

 

 

 

 

Leadership Notes -- Thoughts on Leading People and Making a Difference in Organizations

Word count this issue: 491

Estimated reading time:  3:45 minutes

 

 

One of the fundamental challenges we face is our own bias to in-group vs. out-group in our minds. We tend to default in our thinking to giving too much credence and even forgiveness of foibles and follies to the people in our in-group and assign much deeper requirements of strengths and “goodness” to the people in our out-group. It is very difficult then for the people who are “out-group” to us to even be listened to, let alone appreciated. We tend then to look at these ‘other’ people as objects rather than subjects. People in our out-group are easily dismissed, or their actions or problems dismissed as ‘of their own making.’ People in our in-group are understood, or protected for doing the same thing; ‘it wasn’t their fault’, ‘they were forced into it,’ ‘they made a mistake.’ 

 

There are any number of examples of this kind of in-group and out-group thinking; for example, the responses of  wealthier people (many of whom might well have addictions to drugs like caffeine and alcohol), being quick to ignore the plight and tragedy of poorer people who are addicted to different stimulants or painkillers.  And it shows up in our workplaces with a striking frequency. The executive in-group, the labour in-group, the cliques that form within departments, sales sees production as the out-group, engineers see sales as the out-group. For the most part, we can live quite comfortably together, with little flareups occurring between the groups. However, we can begin, very quickly to turn people in the out-group into objects who need to be “dealt with” rather than fellow humans and colleagues with whom we work.

 

Here are three suggestions for staying focused on the ‘subjects’ with whom you work, even in other departments, or areas of your work:

 

  1. As much as possible use first names of individuals to describe your observations about people in other groups in your workplace; ‘Dave is doing xyz’ rather than ‘they are doing xyz’.
  2. Reach out and connect with people who are lower in the hierarchy than you. Extend your hand if you do not know them and say hello, with your name, even if they likely know it. 
  3. Listen carefully in meetings, even with the folks who are disagreeing. It means a lot to the whole group if you can respond to their comments by paraphrasing what they have just said, and acknowledge their point. For example, ‘thanks Jean, your point as I heard it is xyz. Thanks for naming it. We have chosen to go in a different direction, but we did consider your point in the our decision making.’ (Obviously you want to be telling the truth here.)

 

 

May this week be filled with mitigating out-group flare ups.

Leadership Notes -- Thoughts on Leading People and Making a Difference in Organizations

Word count this issue: 724

Estimated reading time:  5:30 minutes

 

We are in the midst of the dramatic shifts politically in the US and elsewhere as nationalism, economic protectionism, racism, homophobia, misogyny, and religious sectarianism have moved from below the surface of the media ocean to become a giant oil slick for everyone to see and express their reaction. 

 

Three thoughts from a leadership perspective; one, it is good that we can see the slick now, as dangerous as it is. Two, a slick is a sticky mess that can trap you, and three, what can we learn and do from a high altitude satellite perspective?

 

The slick is here, and it is visible to us all. It has come out of the dark corners of the web, out of the shadows of our thinking. It is dangerous, and will cause much damage, as it already has. And at least it’s out in the open. Like when a conflict appears in an organization or a family, conflict and anger are most dangerous when they are hidden and festering. The slick may generate all sorts of feelings, but at least we can see it, and now find ways of responding.

 

And response is what we are called to as leaders. The slick is sticky and when we react, when we dive into to comment on social media, or to try and fix the conflict we can find ourselves caught in the slick ourselves and are then unable to respond or support the changes required. (A quick caveat, there are very smart, extraordinary people who have stepped into the slick to push back, to identify large globs in the slick. They are the brave and are dealing with toxicity at the front lines. Throw them life lines, support them. At the office, these are the people who work most closely with the people whose behaviour is toxic. They need your support) And to be at your best, you need to avoid getting too deep in the slick yourself.

 

From a satellite’s perspective, we can see that this is not the first time nationalism, economic protectionism, racism, homophobia, misogyny and religious sectarianism have shown up. It has been a long time for many of us in the comfortable and all too complacent West, but it is not the first time. Here are three lessons from history in how to respond to slicks in your office, or, as we are facing now, in our political economy:

 

  1. It is all about you; what is in your heart? How are you responding to the conflicts and eruptions in your life?  Can you find the courage to face into your own contributions to the slick and avoid placing blame on other people? If you can turn yourself around to a place of peace and compassion, you can inspire others to follow suit.
  2. There will be pain and sadness in any great transformation. As much as possible stop thinking about your own wounding and how badly this is affecting you and begin the work of building a better environment for the next generation. Think about the refugees over the millennia who left to make a better life for their children elsewhere. The lawyer or dentist who drives a taxi or the engineer who owns a corner store is working hard so that their children will have a better life. In your office or workplace, move beyond your own frustration or anger and ask, what do we want this place to look like 5 years from now?
  3. The most potent and powerful clean up agents will not come from the leaders who brought us here, they will come from the margins of the slick. They will come from people who have different ideas and perspectives than the people at the top, many of whom will be falling into  blame and reacting to their own narcissistic wounding. Care and nurture the people who have a different mind than the one that caused the slick in the first place. In your office or team, that may well be the younger people, or even the person who seems to be marching to a different drummer. Ask them their opinion, ask them what they see as the route forward. They may well surprise you. 

 

 

The slick is here, this is not a drill.

 

Leadership Notes -- Thoughts on Leading People and Making a Difference in Organizations

Word count this issue: 404

 

Estimated reading time:  3:30 minutes

 

One of the interesting tech developments over the past decade of course has been social media. The links we have been able to make and maintain over time and space because of Facebook and Instagram, to name only two, have been remarkable. And at the same time, the comments, especially about politics, religion, race, sexuality and gender under people’s posts appear to be from hecklers on steroids. 

 

There is a long tradition of heckling, especially from within a crowd protesting an unjust authority. In the Hunger Games saga, the Three Fingers Salute that individuals from within the crowds give Catniss, often at their own great peril, is a kind of heckling of President Snow and his cronies. It is a powerful and important protest. And heckling during theatre and arts events, including boo’s and jeers is also a way of showing displeasure with the act or the content. And these protests and jeers are from the relative safety of the audience. And there are various means of responding to hecklers that the participants in the show itself have, ranging from state sanctioned violence in the case of protesting a government, to insults and jeers right back at the heckler from the stage. I recall one particularly mean one from an actor back to a heckler, “obviously you’ve mistaken me for someone who gives a s@#$ about your opinion.” This lone shamed the heckler so much with the laughter from the audience that he slunk out of the theatre. 

 

Comments on social media, are often simply heckling.

 

I try to live by a rule that says comments on social media must enhance the other person, and never denigrate or hurt them. When we heckle each other on social media we too quickly fall into reciprocal shaming, like that I witnessed in that theatre. 

 

Two people, listening to each other, and advocating and inquiring about truth will be able to do far more, faster and more effectively than three or five or eight people heckling from the audience.

 

Protest is important, and it is most effective when it is public, and in person. For example, I look forward to the protests across North America from women marching together on Saturday. Perhaps we might see some Three Fingered Salutes! That will be great heckling. 

 

And in the meantime lets commit to less heckling on social media and more engagement on social media that enhances each of us.