On the Shoulders of Giants

1987 World Series ParadeIt was time to celebrate. The Minnesota Twins had won the 1987 World Series. There were two victory parades, I went to the one in Saint Paul. As expected the crowds were incredible. The best spot I could find left me about ten feet back from the street with a solid wall of people in front of me. Standing next to me was a lady and her young son. We chatted a bit as we waited for the parade to begin.

When the procession of Twins players began to arrive it quickly became evident that I wasn’t going to be able see much. They were riding in the back of convertibles and even though they were sitting up on the back of the seat it was still hard to see them through the crowd. And the poor boy next to me wasn’t going to see anything.

Then I got an idea and after quickly clearing it with the mother and the boy I lifted him up onto my shoulders. Now he had a great view of the players as they rode by. The unexpected and delightful part of this was that the boy knew who all the players were, and as they went by he would call out their names. He provided us below a view of what was happening. I was able to see the parade through the eyes of this boy, which enriched the experience for me.

“If I have seen further it is by standing on the shoulders of Giants.”
Isaac Newton

One might add to this quote, “If I have seen more deeply it is by lifting others up.” When we lift someone else up to give them a greater perspective on life we find that our own vision is enriched as well. It’s not a selfless thing done only for their benefit. It’s not a selfish thing done only for our own benefit. Lifting others is simply the right thing, and it benefits us all, brings us together and in the end lifts us all up. Sometimes we are called upon to be the giant. Sometimes we are the one being lifted. Either way our view improves.


“To lead is to bring people together on higher ground.”

The Perils of Competitive Conformity

StandOutIt’s amazing how often we try to stand out from everyone else by fitting in better than anyone else. The title of champion or victor is given to the one who does what many others do, just better or faster or more often. We want to show others that we’re like them by doing what they do and at the same time display our uniqueness by demonstrating our superior skills.

There’s a danger however with fitting in. Fitting in provides great soil for the seeds of mediocrity but poor conditions for true excellence to sprout. If you’re doing what others are doing simply for the sake of doing what others are doing then what you’re doing isn’t doing much even if you’re doing it better than all the others are doing. Okay, so you’re probably not counting to see if that sentence was 140 characters or less. (It’s 190 by the way and that’s without a hashtag or handle so save the Tweet.) Let me explain it another way.

It’s good to have a sense of belonging in a community but fitting in is not required. And doing well at what others are doing is perfectly fine if it provides the following.

  • Authenticity – Does what you are doing authentically reflect who you are? Life is first and foremost about who we are and what we do needs to flow from the best of who we are. When our actions give others a true sense of our identity it builds trust and relationship, which in turn helps to build leadership.
  • Growth – Does what you are doing help you to grow? Do you gain a clearer self understanding? Does it move you towards a personal vision? Is your focus not on being better than them but on becoming more than you were?
  • Service – Does what you are doing serve others? Does it help them to grow as individuals? Does it bring us together as a community? Rather than trying to best them are you working to better them?
  • Inspiration – Does what you are doing inspire others to do their best at what they do? Rather than simply challenging others to beat you are you challenging them to be authentic, grow, serve and inspire?

Now if your calling and purpose takes you down a whole new path, doing what no one else has done – AWESOME!  Don’t worry about fitting in. There’s one thing that nobody in this world can ever do better than you and that is to be you. Charge down the path, throw yourself into the fray and lead on!

There’s one other aspect I want to mention regarding standing out by fitting in.  This problem often shows up in typical performance review systems where everyone is graded on a standard set of criteria. The unintended but clear message is this – “Do what everyone else is doing but do it better than them.” Consider the effects of that message. What does that do for collaboration? What does that do for innovation? What does that do for bringing yourself to your work? Hmmm. Instead of trying to engage people in the organization by getting them to fit it, let’s engage the organization in the individual and let each person be there incredible, brilliant self.  Take the lead and show them how it’s done by working to express yourself rather trying to impress them.

Reach higher than superior mediocrity.
Stand out by standing strong in who you are and
living that out in day-to-day magnificence!

Image courtesy of Stuart Miles at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

So that …

May 28th is World Hunger Day, a day to raise awareness of hunger issues. Every day is a day to do something about it. An amazing organization that is doing incredible work to address world hunger is Feed My Starving Children, headquartered in Coon Rapids, Minnesota. Over a million volunteers a year in the US pack meals that are sent around the world to feed starving children. This evening I participated in a packing event at the Coon Rapids facility. In an hour and a half about 100 of us packed 26,568 meals that are headed to Honduras.
In addition to having a huge impact on world hunger, Feed My Starving Children is also an outstanding model of servant leadership. One aspect in particular they demonstrate well is what it means to truly serve. Service is often spoken of as simply helping others or doing something nice for them, but service goes deeper than that. When someone grows as a person as a result of our authentic actions we are truly serving.

Helping a child provides them a meal. Serving a child also provides them hope.

One way to distinguish helping from serving is with two little words – “so that.” Those words can help assure that our actions are rooted in purpose, vision and mission.

Service feeds a hungry child so that …

  • … so that they can live.
  • … so that they can learn.
  • … so that they can grow and be productive.
  • … so that they can experience the beauty of their world.
  • … so that they can serve.
  • … so that they can lead.

The FMSC model also benefits the volunteers & staff who prepare and pack the meals.
Service provides opportunities to volunteers and staff so that…

  • … so that they gain a better understanding of who they are.
  • … so that they feel good about who they are.
  • … so that they gain more confidence in their ability to make a difference.
  • … so that they can grow as leaders.

Consider the work you do to serve. Are you simply helping or are you truly serving? If you are helping that’s great. I am definitely not saying that helping is wrong. Just be careful however that your helping isn’t actually a disservice. I do challenge you though to go deeper and truly serve. Be clear on your purpose. Take time to reflect on how you would finish this statement, “I am doing this so that …”

Feed My Starving Children is clear on their “so that.” And what a difference their service makes.

Whoosh! Leadership lesson from a Hawk

Broad-winged_HawkWHOOSH! The message was to the point and fortunately without any sharp points.

Two hawks flew overhead as I was birding at a local nature center. One landed on a branch high above me and the other continued to call from somewhere. I wanted to confirm that this was indeed a Broad-Winged Hawk so I could add it to the list of birds I had seen that day. I used a bird app on my phone to play the sound of a Broad-Winged. Yes, this is what I was hearing.

I looked up with my binoculars at the perched hawk, hoping that he would take off so I could see his underside and tail. He did fly, but it wasn’t his belly I was looking at. My view was looking head-on at the bird, and he was getting bigger rapidly. For many rodents this view is the last thing they ever see. I lowered my binoculars and prepared for the imminent encounter. At the last second he banked slightly and passed within a couple feet of my head. Woosh.

I turned around to see where he went and discovered he was coming back at me. This time I didn’t see how close he came because I was crouched down in a ball with my arms over my head. It was unlikely that he would actually hit me, but I didn’t want to chance a minute navigational miscalculation.

The third delivery of the message came a few minutes later and I never saw it coming. WHOOSH!!! The sudden sound was directly behind my head as the hawk executed a precise sneak attack from the rear. It was clear I was not welcome. I left the park.

As I was driving to my next birding site it occurred to me that my experience with the hawk is similar to what can happen in an office environment. An insecure manager looks down from their perch and sees a subordinate studying leadership. The manager has the misguided idea that leadership is a job, THEIR job. And if someone from down in the rank and file is trying to be a leader that can only mean one thing – they’re after their job. WHOOSH! The attacks begin until the minion is curled up in their proper place, or just leaves.

I’ve been on the receiving end. I’ve heard the Whoosh in the office. As a recipient of the message you have options. You can counterattack which is totally futile, and is what I tried the first time it happened to me. You can hide. You can work with the manager to try to open communication and come to a better mutual understanding. But as you work to improve the environment, also be prepared for the option to leave because that may end up being your best choice.

And if you are a manager and see someone in your group working to become a better leader don’t feel threatened. If anything feel honored. Remember it is not your title that makes you a leader but rather it is your influence. Do all you can to influence this person to grow into the fullness of who they are meant to be.

Look around you. How many leaders can you find?

“The function of leadership is to produce more leaders,
not more followers.”
Ralph Nader

Finding GEMO

QuestionEvery question had an answer. Every problem had a solution. Success was knowing that one right answer or one correct solution. Failure was not knowing.

That was the mindset I had growing up. If I didn’t know the right answer I would often pretend that I did. It didn’t make sense to ask someone. That would be admitting that I didn’t know and at that point I had already failed. I learned a lot in my youth, but one thing I didn’t learn well was how to learn. It’s hard to identify the source of this mindset, whether it was culture or educational system or my own personality, or most likely a combination of all the above.

As I began to explore my role as a leader this became a challenge. If success was to know the answer then leaders must know the answer to every question. Leaders were those who always had the right solution and knew exactly how to proceed in any situation. And I knew this certainly wasn’t me.

Eventually though I came to see that leadership isn’t about knowing the right answers, it’s about asking better questions. Good leadership is about finding GEMO, realizing when the solution at hand is Good Enough, Move On. When I opened my mind to exploring the questions and opened my heart to the struggle, it was then that I could really begin to grow as a leader. Having questions and wrestling with options, now this I could relate to.

When as a leader you are able to honestly say to someone, “I don’t know. What do you think?” it opens doors. It’s a statement of authenticity and vulnerability, opening yourself for the other person to better see who you are. It creates connection and allows relationship to develop. It respectfully says to the other person, “I trust who you are and  I value your perspective.” You open yourself to the richness of insights others have. If you solicit input from others and honor their response you create buy in to the final outcome. And by the time you reach the point of finding GEMO, you will also find that something marvelous has already occurred.  You have already traveled far down the road in the leadership journey.

What do you think?

(Now at this point I could continue editing this post, over and over and over, till it is absolutely perfect and says exactly what I want to say. But I think I’ve found GEMO. Time to hit the button.)

 

“We do not grow by knowing all of the answers,
but rather by living with the questions.”

Max DePree

 

Image courtesy of Master isolated images at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

A Fathers Day Paradox

This evening I went to the store to grab a couple items. When I walked past the card aisle I was moved by the sight of people buying cards for Fathers Day, just a few days away. A card was not on my list, but after I had found the stuff I had come to get I returned to the card aisle.

After reviewing a few cards I found one that was perfect for my father. The design and theme of the card fit him well. And the message expressed exactly how I felt. It was truly the perfect card.

Then I put the card back on the rack. And I walked away, delighted with my find though I didn’t purchase it.

You see, my father passed away 27 years ago. Reading the different cards and finding the perfect one was a small ceremony of remembrance and healing. informal and impromptu yet meaningful.

Fathers Day is a paradox for me. In all the years I have had to reflect on what it is like to lose your father there is one phrase I have found that describes it best. It sucks. And yet woven in tightly there is joy. In life our relationships are part of who we are. And the deep and meaningful relationships continue to be part of us long after the other person is gone. I am grateful to my father for giving me life and for living his life in a way that impacted mine so significantly.

And Fathers Day is also very special to me because I am blessed to be father to three wonderful children who are all amazing young adults and each a great leader in their own way.

If you share with me in the paradox of Fathers Day, I wish you all the best in this time. Take it for what it is, all of it, and let it make something richer of you. The full marvel of life comes not from its glorious moments but from all the bits and pieces of its entirety.

Happy Fathers Day.

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

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