Is reality still real?

The house in the picture was beautiful.  And its setting on the waterfront was spectacular.  When I saw this photograph about twenty years ago my first reaction was one of wonder at this incredible place.

Then I read that this house only existed in the photograph and in the computer that generated it.  This was in an article in Computerworld magazine.  In the years before I had watched as computer generated pictures became more and more realistic.  And now for the first time I was looking at a picture that I couldn’t tell wasn’t real.  So my second reaction was to marvel at how far technology had come.

But as I began to contemplate the implications of this, my third reaction was great concern, almost fear.  How would we now be able to tell what was real and what wasn’t? Would there need to be some official designation or even legislation to help distinguish pictures that weren’t real?

Then my fourth reaction came as an epiphany.  It suddenly dawned on me that the question of reality was largely irrelevant.  The issue wasn’t how to recognize reality.  The issue was that reality was being totally redefined.  The criteria of reality to people in future generations would not simply be whether something existed in the physical world.  What the new definition would come to be I did not know, but I did know it was going to change.

Twenty years later this is still playing out.  And it has great bearing on leadership.  It’s easy to make assumptions about basic concepts, like reality.  But what is unreal to me may be very real to someone else.  This has great impact on matters such as trust, communication, relationship.  These are pillars of leadership.  And as leaders we need to keep a very open mind to the shifting realm of reality around us.  We can’t shy away from it, though, because the need for leadership is as real as it has ever been.

I Would Look Up

6_ragsThe Raggers Program, formed by Thomas Caldwell, began in 1914 at a YMCA camp in California and since has been adopted at many other Y camps.  It was designed for youth ages 12 and up.  Progression through the program is marked by a series of colored rags.

It was at YMCA Camp du Nord, a family camp, that I became familiar with it as an adult.  For a few years du Nord used an adaptation of the program, modified for use by people of all ages.  The camp provides a beautiful setting for personal reflection (the Be blog header is from there) and Raggers helped me be more intentional in my reflection.

Central to the program is the Raggers Creed.

I would be true, for there are those who trust me;
I would be pure, for there are those who care;
I would be strong, for there is much to suffer,
I would be brave, for there is much to dare.
I would be friend to all – the foe, the friendless;
I would be giving, and forget the gift;
I would be humble, for I know my weakness;
I would look up, and laugh, and love and lift.

Wherever you may be in this moment, physically or emotionally,
read those words again and reflect on a few questions.
What do they tell me about who I am?
What do they mean to me as a leader?
What do they mean to me as a follower?

When Helping is a Disservice

LendAHandServant leadership is more than doing something nice for others.  Yes, kind and generous actions are a key element.  But the more you assess the situation and the better you understand those being served, the more that all involved will experience the full richness of servant leadership.  Without it your actions could actually be a disservice to those you are attempting to serve.

Robert Greenleaf said the test of servant leadership is this,

“Do those served grow as persons? Do they, while being served, become healthier, wiser, freer, more autonomous, more likely themselves to become servants?”

To deepen my understanding of servant leadership I periodically form and refine my own definition.

To serve is to live in such a way that others become more from what I do.  Servant leadership is serving in a way that others become servants who lead.

Before you reach out, reflect within on a few questions.

  • Does my service help them reach their goals?  Or is my only objective to achieve my own goals?
  • Does my service help them to become more skilled, more knowledgeable, more self-aware?  If I do what they are able to do themselves,  will I deny them an opportunity to learn and grow?
  • Does my service help them to become more self-sufficient and self-confident?  Or is there a risk they will become dependent on my assistance?
  • How will their life be different as a result of my service?  What change will this bring about?
    • Are they prepared for this change?  Will they be equipped for the new reality?
    • Are they involved in the process enough to feel ownership of the results?
  • Does my service allow me to be enriched by the experience?  If service is harmful to the one who is serving, it is a disservice to all.  We each have our own unique gifts to share.  And if anyone, even the servant, becomes less we all become less.  Give of yourself without giving up yourself.

A key is relationship.  In relationship we gain the understanding necessary to serve effectively.  In relationship an act of kindness becomes a message of love.  In relationship we share responsibility for the outcome.  In relationship we grow and become more from what we do.  In relationship we lead.

Go the extra mile to do something special for others,
but also go deeper to be someone of significance to others.

Image: foto76 / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Remembering Van Eaton

VanEaton2 When I learned the story of Thomas Van Eaton I was troubled by it, but even more so by the circumstances around it.

Mr. Van Eaton was an early European settler in Central Minnesota in the 1860s. In 1862 conflict between the Dakota people and the growing number of settlers erupted in violence, in what is commonly referred to as the Dakota Uprising.  While the worst of the fighting was over fifty miles south of Van Eaton’s homestead, there were attacks in other areas as well.  Thomas brought his wife and five children to a stockade twenty miles away.  Returning to his farm a couple days later to check on the cattle he was attacked by a group of Dakota.  Defending himself with his back to a tree he killed eight of them before he himself was brutally killed.

Though the details of the death of Mr. Thomas Van Eaton and the eight Dakota were disturbing, what disturbed me most was the realization this took place a few miles from where I grew up.  And I had never before heard the story.  The tiny village of Grove Lake where his homestead was, where he died and where he is buried today is just four miles from my boyhood home.  Why was I learning of it now for the first time?

Why are there no signs or monuments to recognize this historical event or the nine men who lost their lives in it?  Why was there never any mention of it in school?  Why had I never heard of it in the local lore?  And what of the eight Dakota?  Where is the story that at least tells us their names?

This past summer a couple family members and I went to the Grove Lake Cemetery to seVanEaton1e if we could find Thomas’ grave.  It took us awhile, but we eventually found the gravestone matching a picture online.  It was off in the corner, tucked in against a tree.  The stone looks like it was badly damaged and poorly repaired.  The name Van Eaton is misspelled and backwards.  This alone is the physical marker of the events around the life and death of Mr. Thomas Van Eaton.

In addition to bringing light to this story, I also feel compelled to point out an important lesson the circumstances hold for leaders.  One of the key roles of a leader is storyteller.  Leaders need to shape a story of a better future around a shared vision.  But leaders also need to keep alive the stories of the past.  While it is not good to dwell in the past, we do need to remember those events that shaped who we are.  This includes not just the recollection of our great victories, but also our struggles and our failures.  In the shadows of our humanness we are reminded to hold fast to the light of our humanity.

The story of Thomas Van Eaton
http://www.findagrave.com/cgi-bin/fg.cgi?page=gr&GRid=55045935

For the Benefit & Enjoyment of the People

YellowstoneEntryWritten upon the Roosevelt Arch at the North Entrance to Yellowstone National Park are the words,
“For the Benefit and
Enjoyment of the People.”
These words come from the 1872 act of Congress that formed the park.

What if those words were carved in stone at the entrance of every organization, and the people within lived this in shared purpose and vision? “For the Benefit and Enjoyment of the People”

Now I’m not suggesting that every place of employment should be turned into a playground, a 9-to-5 recess time. Hardly. Imagine though if every organization existed first and foremost for the sake of the individual. What would it be like if the primary objective was to provide each and every person meaningful work? What if the purpose of all organizations was to provide opportunities that one could not realize on their own, to live out the best of who they are in work that matters, to be challenged to become more and to be enriched and grow from the work?

“For the Benefit and Enjoyment of the People.” What if?

“The highest reward for a person’s toil is not what they get from it, but what they become from it.”
John Ruskin

Can you?

In a first for the Be blog here is a video post.  I wasn’t sure if I could do this or not, so I gave it a try.

“Make the most of yourself, for that is all there is of you.”
Ralph Waldo Emerson

“Throw yourself into life as someone who makes a difference, accepting that you may not understand how or why.”
Benjamin Zander

“When you take risks there is the very real possibility of failure. When you take no risks there is the absolute certainty of failure.”
Ralph Marston

Organizational Leadership?

FlyingFlock

The words ‘Organizational Leadership’ can seem incongruous.  The key elements of leadership are very personal and relational.  How does that fit within a structured group environment? Basically, leadership is leadership, and Organizational Leadership is leadership that occurs within an organization.  But it does present special challenges and opportunities, and in the context of certain leadership principles ‘Organizational Leadership’ does make sense.

Leaders lead people. 

Leaders don’t lead programs or projects or processes.  Those things are managed.  The people involved in them are led.

Organizations are people.

And like people, organizations are defined not by what they do but by who they are.  It is first and foremost about the being of the organization – the story, the beliefs, the abilities, the culture of shared values, the vision.  This is then lived out and reflected in what the organization does.  Leaders of the organization focus first on leading the organization and the individuals within it to know who they are and to become more.

Leadership isn’t found on an org chart.

There are operational concerns with organizations that need to be handled by managers.  But the responsibility of leading people should not be placed solely on these same people.  Whatever role a person has within an organization, manager or not, they will be more effective in that role the more they are capable, committed and free to lead.

Organizations exist ultimately for the benefit of the individual.

Organizations provide efficiency that allows individuals to accomplish more than they could on their own.  But more importantly organizations provide an environment that allows individuals to become more than they would ever realize on their own.

Organizational success is marked by individual growth.

Using individuals for the sake of the work of the organization will not bring sustainable success.  If individuals within the organization are not becoming more as a result of their being a part of the organization, the organization is not fulfilling its ultimate purpose.  The responsibility to fulfill this organizational purpose falls on each individual, to respond as called upon to be a leader to others around them.

Take a moment to think about each organization that you are a part of, both occupational and volunteer, and ask yourself – Am I finding personal fulfillment and growth from being a part of this organization?  Are those of us within the organization clear on who we are, and who we want to become, as an organization?  Is this honestly reflected in what we do?  How am I a leader within this organization, serving others that they may find personal fulfillment and growth?

“In organizations, real power and energy is generated through relationships. The patterns of relationships and the capacities to form them are more important than tasks, functions, roles, and positions.”  Margaret Wheatly

“An empowered organization is one in which individuals have the knowledge, skill, desire, and opportunity to personally succeed in a way that leads to collective organizational success.” Stephen R. Covey

“The quality of leadership, more than any other single factor, determines the success or failure of an organization.” Fred Fiedler & Martin Chemers

Image: Liz Noffsinger / FreeDigitalPhotos.net