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.

Leadership on P.A.R.

In leadership all of us are on P.A.R.  This is one of the fundamental leadership principles on which I stand.



“Take me to your leader.”

Imagine that you are watching your favorite cartoon show. Your favorite cartoon character is out in a field and along comes a flying saucer that lands near them. Out comes a space alien who then walks, floats, slithers over to the cartoon character. And what is the first thing the alien says? “Take me to your leader.”
What comes to your mind when you hear that? If someone, a space alien or anyone, said that to you where would you take them? Would you take them to meet your manager? Your CEO? The governor? The president?
Or would you take them to meet your coworker who whenever you’re faced with a difficult problem helps you see things from a new perspective and helps you find a way forward?
Or would you take them to meet your child’s Little League coach who not only teaches the kids the skills of the game but also the value of teamwork, and in the process inspires the parents and brings a community together?
When we hear the terms leader or leadership we tend to think in terms of structure, with a point at the top. And the ones who are highest up, who are ahead of the rest of us in the quest to get to the pinnacle, they are the leaders. No.
Leadership is not a position. And if there is no position, there is no structure, no pyramid.
When it comes to leadership, everyone is on PAR. P. A. R. Each of us has the permission to lead. Each of has the Ability to lead. And each of us has the Responsibility to lead.


You have the permission to lead. You don’t need to have a certain title. You don’t need to be above a particular level in an organization. You don‘t even need to be a manager. You just need to be you.
So much of the information on leadership is confusing and misleading, suggesting that leadership and management are interchangeable terms. Or that leadership is a higher form of management. But leadership and management are actually distinct, unique concepts, and leadership is not exclusive to management. Yes, managers need to be leaders, but so do those of us who are not managers. Confusing the two impedes the individual growth and fulfillment of everyone, including managers.
Don’t be confused by the mixed messages. Just know that you have the permission to lead, whoever you are, whatever role you may be in.


And you have the ability to lead. It may be intimidating if you’ve always thought of leadership as something executives do; or if you think of the great leaders like Lincoln, Martin Luther King Jr., Mother Teresa.
But at its core leadership is really quite simple. It begins as simply as saying, “What if ….” or “You know, we could …” or “I don’t think that’s right. Could you explain that to me?” If you can look at a situation and see it for what it is, and have some idea of how things could be better, and should be better, and you care enough about the people in the situation to want to move them from here to there, then the seeds of leadership have sprouted in you.
From there then you can do a lot to become a better leader. Leaders are learners. Learn listening skills, because listening is so critical to leadership. Learn about personality types, so that you better can understand people and influence them. Build trust, relationships, your network. Start where you are today and grow from there.


You have the permission to lead. You have the ability to lead. And you have the responsibility to lead. Have you ever heard someone say, “Why doesn’t somebody do something?!” That’s a red flag phrase. The question of a leader is instead, “What can I do?”
Another red flag phrase is, “It’s not my job.” Well, you can take that with a grain of salt because leadership isn’t a job.
Similar is, “I don’t have the authority.” Ok, leadership isn’t about authority, it’s about influence. If the situation at hand truly is a matter of authority, then figure out who does have the authority to take the necessary action or make the decision. And then your question is, “How can I influence them?” “How can I use my influence to help this person of authority to take a better action, or to make a better decision?”
It’s important to note that being a responsible leader doesn’t mean you’re always leading. The great leaders have the wisdom to know when to follow. When others will not lead, then stand up and lead. And when others cannot lead, then stand in. But when others will lead then stand back, and follow. And always stand strong.

Lead on!

And when it comes your time to lead know that you are fully capable of succeeding brilliantly. Also realize that you are fully capable of totally screwing it up. And that’s ok! Be open, authentic and honest at all times, and learn from the experience no matter the outcome. The leader isn’t the one that gets it right. The leader is the one who gets it, who understands that it’s all about people. It’s messy and confusing and complex, but that’s why we need leaders.
So if someone ever does say to you, “Take me to your leader,” tell them, “Here I am. And here you are.” We’re on PAR – We each have the Permission, the Ability and the Responsibility to lead. Let’s go! Lead on!


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

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?


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

What is Servant Leadership?

MountainLeadServant leadership – what exactly is it?  How is it unique from other perspectives on leadership? Who or what is it that is served?  What does it mean to be a follower of a servant leader?

One of my goals in 2013 is to explore those questions.  I want to learn more of how others define and live out servant leadership, and better formulate my own understanding of it.  For now I set a marker on the trail, to measure against later, laying out here what I believe servant leadership is, and what it is not.

Servant Leadership is not self serving.

One element that is clear is that servant leadership is not self serving.  Being a leader doesn’t mean that I have somehow become more at the expense of others becoming less.  Becoming a leader is not the outcome of a competition with others.

Servant Leadership is not self deprecating.

While I do not become more from others becoming less, it is also true that others do not become more from my becoming less.  A distinction of servant leadership is that I give of myself.  But to give of myself does not mean that I give up myself.  Servant leadership isn’t self serving, nor is it self deprecating.

Service is not sacrifice, it is surrender.*

More precisely, service is not sacrifice of self, it is surrender to us.  As a servant leader I surrender to a different reality where all grow because each grows.  I give of myself, and I lead others to give of themselves.  Together we serve each other in order that what we do brings us to a place where we all become more.

By influence, not authority;
by heart, not title;
by relationship, not structure –
leaders lift people
and bring all together
on higher ground.

How exactly does this come to be? How is this lived out in the day-to-day? Well, this is all part of what I have yet to learn.

“It begins with the natural feeling that one wants to serve, to serve first.
Then conscious choice brings one to aspire to lead.
That person is sharply different from one who is leader first.”
Robert Greenleaf

Photo courtesy of AESThetic Photography


* While this view of service and sacrifice seemingly conflicts with the writings of Robert Greenleaf, who stated that sacrifice is a key part of servant leadership, our views are much the same in concept.  He wrote, “I believe that the essential quality that sets servant-leaders apart from others is that they live by their conscience – the inward moral sense of what is right and what is wrong. That one quality is the difference between leadership that works and leadership – like servant leadership – that endures.” and “The essence of moral authority or conscience is sacrifice – the subordinating of one’s self or one’s ego to a higher purpose, cause, or principle.”  What he describes as sacrifice is similar to what I describe as surrender.  I hesitate to use the word sacrifice because of the connotations that have been ascribed to use of the word.  People tend to assume a reference to the subordination of self to others, but what Robert Greenleaf espoused was the subordination of self to a higher purpose.