Swans and a Lesson on the Lake

SwanHad an imminent cold snap been pressing in on the region the swans may have been in peril. But as it was with the air temperature already above freezing they were merely inconvenienced. The lake was almost entirely covered with a sheet of ice that was too thin for the swans to stand on but too thick to swim through. And so they sat, each in their own perforation in the ice.

It was on my morning commute that I spotted them as I drove by the lake. I immediately parked along the road, work was going to have to wait this day. Grabbing my binoculars, I walked to the shore near the swans. There were six of them, and it was odd to see these majestic birds in such an awkward predicament.

One juvenile swan attempted to swim over to another. But he could only gain an inch at a time with each budge against the ice. Another young swan tried getting his feet out ahead of him and in a brief, dramatic thrashing he was able to make a foot of progress but then gave up. Another swan that appeared to be a full adult tried another method that was more effective and more gracefully fitting of a swan. He would lift his chest and swim forward, breaking the ice by laying his body down on top of it. With each movement an odd keew sound emanated from the ice, like someone twanging a high-tension cable.

Meanwhile, right along the shore in a patch of open water a small flock of mallards swam freely. One paddled over to the edge of the ice and looked at the swans with a look of bemusement. A new pair of ducks came in for a landing. However, they overshot the open water. The drake dropped into the ice with a thunk, immediately coming to a halt. The hen was coming in just behind and to the right of him, and seeing her mate’s descent from flight to plight she quickly aborted her own landing, taking back to the air.

After creating some space for himself, the elder swan suddenly spread his grand white wings and launched himself free from the hole he had created. The other five seemed to say, “Well, ok, I guess that works, too,” and the flock joined together in taxiing down the frozen runway. When swans take off they will run across the surface of the water for a long way, their big, webbed feet slapping the lake with a WHAP-WHAP-WHAP! But on the delicate layer of ice the sound instead was a TAK-TAK-TAK. And then they were gone.

Such an event should simply be left for what it is. It seems a shame to try to derive some meaning or divine some human lesson from this moment. Nonetheless I will. What I took from this experience, in addition to a gossamer memory, is that even in the awkward moments there is grace and beauty to be found. Also, when faced with a challenge we should stick with what we’re good at. If that doesn’t work, adapt. If that still doesn’t work, find something else you’re good at. Work together with others and get them to join you. Soon all will be soaring.

 

Image courtesy of dan at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

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Life Size Leadership

LifeSize

“I want to be the leader!” called out a little girl as she got on her bike. “I want to be the leader!” yelled another girl. As the group of young kids headed off on another adventure I stood there pondering this passionate display of leadership that was so incredibly full of life. And I wondered why it shrinks as we get older.

How big is leadership? It’s bigger than even youthful exuberance and confidence. It’s as big as life. Because leadership is life. We are born with an innate desire for leadership that comes from the basic instinct to adapt and grow and become.

But then we begin to stuff it into organizational boxes and build walls around it. Pretty soon the walls restrict leadership to a select chosen few and the sign on the door reads, “Managers only.” For all the unchosen, “I want to be a  leader!” is soon replaced with “It’s not my job,” “I don’t have the authority,” or “Why doesn’t somebody do something?”

How do we take down these walls and bring leadership back to life?

Leadership is bigger than management. When you talk about management, call it management, don’t call it leadership. Down comes a wall. When you talk about really good management, call it good management, don’t call it leadership. Down comes a wall. When you talk about upper management, call it upper management or executive management, don’t call it leadership. Down comes a wall. Talk about how important it is for managers to be leaders but don’t suggest that only managers can be leaders. Down comes a wall.

Leadership is bigger than business. Talk about the role of leadership in business. But don’t suggest, intentionally or unintentionally, that leadership happens only in the context of running a business. Running a business is management, and it should be guided by good leadership. Leadership happens in boardrooms, and it happens at dinner tables and on playgrounds and at checkout lines. A leadership discussion can be about profits, or it can be about dreams or bullies or heartbreak or 10 pm curfews or what we’re going to do next. Don’t teach leadership as an occupational skill in business school, teach it as a life skill in kindergarten. Talk about leadership in the full context of life and walls start falling down all over the place.

Leadership is bigger than our boxes and walls. Fascinating things happen when we take down the walls we have built around leadership and open it up to everyone. People grow. Their eyes are opened to see they have the permission and ability and responsibility to lead. Their hearts are opened to the unique purpose they have to serve.

Managers are set free to be the leaders they are truly meant to be. Youth are no longer fettered with the label of “future leaders” and they live as leaders today. Citizens take a stand for justice because it is influence, not authority, that leads real lasting change. Groups of people who by their race or gender or other physical characteristics have often found themselves on the outside come to see that they are leaders by their own choice.

Service, influence, relationship, trust, community, vision  – this is the stuff of leadership. This is the stuff of life.

Let’s stop making leadership so much smaller than it really is. Let’s exuberantly declare, “I want to be a leader!” Let each and every single one of us boldly claim, “I am a leader!” Let’s set leadership free to be life size.

LifeSizeLeadership

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.”

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

When the Do Falls

Life isn’t lived in a straight line.  There are bends we plan for and hairpin twists we never see coming.  These changes in course have an impact on our life, for they are the stuff of life itself.

In the Be-Do cycle our doing flows from our being, and enriches our being. When that is in place it’s a cycle of growth. But a change in what we do can have a significant impact on the cycle.

Milestone life changes such as graduation, marriage, a new job, moving or retirement are events we look forward to with joy and anticipation.  But they can have unexpected effects if we don’t stop to think through how life will be different afterwards.  Being promoted to a new job brings new opportunities, but can also mean leaving behind relationships that affect our lives in ways we don’t realize.

Profound events such as the unexpected loss of a job or the death of someone close to us can really shake us up.  One day our normal routine comes to a screeching halt, and we’re no longer doing what we were doing before. The most severe, punch-in-the-gut experiences can even leave us with a hole in our life that can’t be filled, where there is no new lifestyle that will provide the activities that allow the same expression and enrichment of who we are. It’s a time when we really need to dig deep and get a good hold of who we are.

Expression

What we do is an expression of who we are.  When what we do changes it can take away a channel for us live out who we are.  The key thing to remember in times of such change is that what we do does not define us.  It should reveal us and reflect us, but we are who we are, not what we do.  Even though what we do is changing, we are still who we are.

A change in our doing actually provides a good opportunity to step back a moment and reflect on who we are.  Am I who I think I am? What are my core values? Are my new activities true to these values? Do I need to adjust my vision? How was I living out who I am prior to the change?  In what new ways can I live that out?

Enrichment

What we do should enrich who we are.  This is where a disruption to Do can really be hard.  When we lose a source of enrichment and fulfillment in our lives it can have a major impact on our being.

Again this is a good time to reflect.  What benefits and blessings was I receiving from what I was doing before?  Which were the most meaningful to me?  What would my life be like without that?  Can I find another source in my new activities, or start another new activity that would provide what I need? If a new job isn’t supplying an important element of enrichment for me, can I find it in a volunteer activity?

As a leader

Leading is guiding people forward and bringing about change.  But change for people often means a change in what they do.  As a leader it is important to be aware of the impact this has.  If the leader has built this change upon communal values and shared vision, the new actions will provide the people an even better means to live out who they are,  and will enrich who they are in new and wondrous ways.  However, if the change brought about by a leader only interferes with the Be-Do cycle of the individuals, then the individuals will not grow, and neither will the team or organization.

When life takes a turn and there is major change in what you normally do – Hold onto who you are. Seize the opportunity to better understand and even refine who you are. Reflect on how to live that out. Seek new means of enrichment, in order that you may become all that you are meant to be.

“The only way to make sense out of change is to plunge into it, move with it, and join the dance.” Alan Watts

Photo courtesy of AESThetic Photography