Month: December 2018

Farewell 2018, Hello 2019

It is that time of year, dear readers, when I look back over the past twelve months, assess progress (or lack thereof) against my goals, and think ahead for 2019.  Careful readers know that for several years I have worked with a set of life rules (rather than annual resolutions) for living the next third of my life.  This review is just one small part of an exercise to have an honest conversation with myself, so I’ll be able to have real conversations with the larger world.  We don’t do enough looking at our uncertainties and vulnerabilities, sometimes choosing as an alternative getting angry at others—which hinders real understanding.  Steve Almond, in the book Bad Stories, asserts that’s true because we take our grievances seriously but not our vulnerabilities.  In the 2017 essay “Facing the Furies” (found in the collection Call Them by Their True Names:  American Crises and Essays), Rebecca Solnit frames it this way: “. . . more often, lashing out is a way to avoid looking inward. A 2001 study by Jennifer …

My 2018 Year-End Reading List

As 2018 draws to a close, I’m sharing this list of the books I read over the past twelve months.  Since returning from sabbatical early in 2016, I committed to reading more, and to seek out a wider range of works beyond my normal histories and biographies. Here are the treasures I found on my reading shelf this past year. Lincoln in the Bardo by George Saunders. I began the year with a work of fiction. In this at times perplexing yet ultimately satisfying novel, Saunders builds off the fact that in February 1862, just a year into the Civil War, President Abraham Lincoln’s 11-year-old son Willie dies of typhoid fever. It is known from contemporary accounts that the President went several evenings to stay in the crypt with his son’s body in Georgetown’s Oak Hill Cemetery. Saunders takes that bit of knowledge and turns it into a rich story populated with dozens of spirits who reside in the Bardo, which is the Tibetan Buddhist name for a transition period between death and rebirth. Tears …

Connections

When I was a freshman in college, I waited tables at a local restaurant and bar in Nashville. Waiting tables is hard and humbling work, which I highly recommend.  Once you’ve experienced it you’ll forever be mindful of 1) how you treat wait staff, and 2) how to tip properly.  When I was leaving at the end of the school year, the manager, Bill, and his sister Ruth invited me over for a drink.  At the end of the night, Ruth gave me a hug and said, “Have a good life!”  This was the pre-Facebook/email/Instagram days, and she meant it as a heartfelt farewell to someone she’d probably never see again.  I stuck that sentiment in the back of my mind. But to paraphrase folksinger Arlo Guthrie halfway through the 17-minute-long Alice’s Restaurant, this isn’t a post about waiting tables. This is a blog post about the emotional and intellectual value of personal connections. One of our staff members had her final day at the National Trust coincide with the last day of our 2018 …

How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love Delegation

Over the past few weeks I’ve been involved in three separate conversations around micromanagement.  All have been in the business and nonprofit context, but the idea of closely observing or controlling the work of subordinates or employees can just as easily apply in the non-work environment.  Think, for instance, of the “helicopter parent” syndrome. The Harvard Business Review has an article by Rebecca Knight on micromanaging that suggests, “It is a hard habit to break. You may downplay your propensities by labeling yourself a ‘control freak’ or by claiming that you just like to keep close tabs on your team, but those are poor excuses for excessive meddling.”  I’ll admit to having some of the micromanager bug myself, and I’m convinced that one is never completely cured.  But as with the first step in Alcoholics Anonymous’ famous 12-step process, public recognition of the problem of micromanagement can be effective in beginning to consider different ways of working with colleagues, family members, children, and friends.  A number of years ago I went through an executive coaching …

I Could Be Wrong, But…

Last month the Harvard Business Review had a fascinating article about how we can become more open-minded.*  In this time of major disruption we need more leaders and citizens who are willing to consider other viewpoints and be intellectually flexible.  The article’s author, Shane Snow, noted that Benjamin Franklin had a way of both preparing himself and his listener to being open-minded.  Whenever Franklin was about to make an argument, he would open with something along the lines of, “I could be wrong, but…” Snow notes that “saying this put people at ease and helped them to take disagreements less personally. But it also helped (Franklin) to psychologically prime himself to be open to new ideas.” In today’s hyper-partisan environment, I find the need to push myself to consider other options, to consider that “I could be wrong, but…” as I make statements of (what seem to me to be) fact. Snow notes that in 2016, researchers—building off the concept of “intellectual humility” from religion—outlined four ways to assess open-mindedness: Having respect for other viewpoints …