Mindfulness Along the Garden Path

IMG_0349They were just the right distance apart, or so I thought. When I laid the stepping stones through the new garden I carefully measured the distance between them. While I wanted the path to look nice it also needed to be effective since it is traversed frequently.

However, when I began using the new path I became frustrated. The placement of the stones was not as optimal as I had planned. The stones were closer together than my normal stride but yet they were too far apart for me to cover two in one step. The new path was forcing me to slow down in my quest to get from point A to point B.

Then one day as I was stutter-stepping through the new garden it dawned on me that the steps were exactly where they needed to be. Why was I always in such a hurry to get through this garden? Why not enjoy it? If the path was forcing me to slow down that was actually perfect. It served as a reminder to accept the moment and see the beauty around me.

Reflecting back I see that I learned a lesson in mindfulness that day in the garden. I could have continued to grumble every time I walked that path or I could have dug up the stones and moved them further apart. But by becoming more aware of the full situation at hand, and my attitude towards it, I came to realize that I had turned the stepping stones into obstacles. Seeing things for what they are however enables one to find the beauty in the present moment. And, wonder of wonders, suddenly obstacles become stepping stones.

“The first step toward change is awareness.
The second step is acceptance.”
Nathaniel Branden

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Vertical Lines

VerticalLinesWe like to live in a black and white world with clear delineation between what is good and what is bad. Everybody goes onto either a nice list or a naughty list. And so we draw vertical lines on our world. We put the bad people on the other side of the line and the good people we collect on our side. And we keep drawing vertical lines until those lines become fences and walls and bars.

The truth though is that the line between good and bad is a horizontal line. And it runs through the heart of every human being. Each and every one of us is at once darkness and brilliance. This is human nature and it is all part of who we are. Our beliefs and values are important for they determine which part of us we live out in our day-to-day actions.

There are people whose beliefs conflict with the beliefs of others, and whose values do not respect the values of others. There are those who have never known anything but darkness in their life and they don’t see their own light or they just don’t know how to do anything that reflects their better nature. The actions of these people typically have a detrimental effect on those whose lives they touch, either intentionally or unintentionally.

These are the people that we tend to label as the “bad” people and we put them on the other side of the vertical line. We work hard to separate and exclude them. But this disregards the true situation at hand which muddles our efforts towards improvement. We absolutely must call out actions that do not serve the well being of society and the people behind those actions need to be held accountable. But we can’t do that effectively by pushing them off to the other side of our vertical line. We must stand with them at the horizontal line that lies between our humanness and our humanity.

As leaders there is something to be said for surrounding ourselves with positive people. We need to have a healthy and supportive environment. And if we carefully choose to focus our leadership on those who are most agreeable to us it will make our journey more pleasant and will increase the likelihood that we will get where we want to go.

But then we have to ask ourselves, did I leave behind those who needed the journey the most? Did I disregard a person because they are one of “them” when in fact they are a lot like me? Did I deny someone their greatest opportunity simply because they annoy me? Did I miss out on an opportunity to live out my better nature in service to them?

GraceGratitude

HorizontalLine

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