All posts filed under: On Leadership

Special posts related to leaders and leadership

When Leadership Fails

There’s no escaping the sense that too many things are moving backwards in America across too many fronts. Democracy is under attack. Those who benefit from discord are dividing us over matters, such as the public heath response to a pandemic, that should bring us together. Inequality continues to grow as the wealthiest take advantage of the global health crisis and the serious economic downturn to further enrich themselves. And another senseless death of a black man and the subsequent unrest it produces points to the setbacks that are too often part of our history in the long struggle for racial equality and justice. Leadership has clearly failed. But we have to hold ourselves accountable for giving in to fear, hatred, and greed in choosing those leaders and in permitting them to divide the country. The famously acerbic newspaperman and political commentator H.L. Mencken wrote of the presidency in 1920, “As democracy is perfected, the office represents, more and more closely, the inner soul of the people. We move toward a lofty ideal. On some …

Widening the Circle of We

A friend recently raised concerns about the increase in messages when discussing the COVID-19 pandemic using an “us-vs-them” frame. His point was that in this day and age, public health emergencies should not be cast as fights between tribes. Yet, that type of framing began almost immediately after the outbreak, when some labeled COVID-19 as the Chinese virus. The attempt to separate us into groups as we consider and respond to the coronavirus has since increased in countless ways, against multiple targets. Us-vs-them framing is dangerous. It is tribal in nature and uses fear to inflame prejudices, driving hostility and hate. Such reactionary framing, legal- and social-policy writer Stephen L. Carter noted in another context, is “designed to bypass the rational faculties of its targets.” Framing conversations and thinking as us-vs-them reduces the number of people we feel responsible for or connected to. It contracts the circle of “we,” usually by highlighting how others are different from our “tribe” and therefore not worthy of our support or concern. I sometimes write about topics that I need to …

Stiff-Necked

Last week I was reading the Daily Office.* (Hint to the non-liturgical: the Daily Office is not an e-newsletter about the five best ways to work from home.) There, as part of the tale of the Jews wandering for years in the desert, we find the Lord telling Moses to lead his people to the Promised Land. After saying he would send an angel ahead to drive out their enemies, God Almighty throws this rather peculiar curve ball: “Go up to a land flowing with milk and honey; but I will not go up among you, or I would consume you on the way, for you are a stiff-necked people.” Whew! It’s pretty bad when even God can’t stand to be around you! Think about how you would feel if the CEO told your manager to have your team complete some task, but then threw in, “But I’m not going to be there with you, because I’ll lose my cool just being around you stiff-necked people!” Stiff-necked is a term I heard my Grandmother use. It …

Beyond the Pandemic

To no one’s surprise, nostalgia is very much in vogue in the middle of this pandemic. That’s understandable. Psychologists say that experiencing distress, or “negative mood” is a very common trigger of nostalgia. As a temporary reprieve from the pressures of the present world, these past happy memories can be a helpful coping device. But as a long-term strategy for getting through and — more importantly — thriving on the other side of the pandemic, nostalgia alone will not be enough. With past pandemics and crises as a guide, the world never goes back to the old way of doing things after such a shock to the system. As someone whose entire career has focused on ensuring that history is part of our present and future, I want to make certain that we don’t discount the past. But this pandemic will require that we adjust to the reality of inevitable change. We can adjust, becoming more effective in our jobs and in life while also promoting our cognitive health, by embracing enthusiastic learning during and …

Responsibility

Responsibility has been in the news lately. In a time of never-ending obfuscation, gaslighting, spitefulness, and mendacity, it seems appropriate to return to the plain spoken wisdom of Harry Truman.* President Truman had a sign on his desk in the Oval Office that simply said, “The buck stops here.” Truman received the sign as a gift and only kept it on his desk for a short period of time, but the message and image stuck with him for the rest of his life. Truman was saying that he was responsible. There is no need to blame anyone else for this. I own the issue. Responsibility has always been at the heart of leadership because it is inherently focused on others as opposed to self-preservation. Truman is just one example, but there are many others in our country’s history. There are famous individuals who regularly took responsibility for their actions — such as Roger Williams, George Washington, Harriet Tubman, Abraham Lincoln, A. Philip Randolph, and General Dwight Eisenhower — just as there are millions of less famous …

Find Your Benefactor Moments

I was reading a journal the other day where the author was describing ways to tap into self-compassion. In it, she suggested that we recall “a benefactor moment, an instance in life ‘when we felt seen, heard and recognized by someone who showed us genuine regard and affection.’” She was quoting Thupten Jimpa, PhD, adjunct professor of religious studies at McGill University and author of A Fearless Heart. By way of example, the author suggested we think of a time when we were speaking during a big work meeting and a colleague begins talking over us. In the moment we begin to question ourselves, wondering if our point had value. But when he’s finished, “your boss redirects the conversation back to you, because she wanted your take. Benefactor moments like these make us feel valued.” The suggestion was that when you question your sense of purpose or usefulness, call upon those moments from your past as reminders that you do have value. In The Wise Heart: A Guide to the Universal Teachings of Buddhist Psychology, …

Struggling with Separation

In this time of quarantine, has your daily to-do list deteriorated to the point where it resembles one I saw on a recent YouTube video? 12 pm — Wake up 12:30 pm — Eat cookies 12:45 pm — Change into daytime pajamas… Having recently been gifted two pairs of yoga pants, there are days when those comfortable, loose-fitting sweats certainly fill that daytime pajamas role for me. Of course, many of our fellow citizens of the world don’t have the luxury of rising slowly with fewer demands on their time during this crisis. I have nieces who are juggling teaching their elementary school classes online while helping their own children with their schoolwork. My sister-in-law’s father passed away last weekend after a long illness where she was the primary caregiver. We have neighbors working from home while they juggle taking care of their active and inquisitive children. Our mail and packages and groceries don’t show up each day through magic, but because millions of Americans brave the virus and do their jobs to keep those …

History and Hope in the Midst of Denial and Darkness

Harry S. Truman famously said, “There is nothing new in the world except the history you do not know.” Each day we are facing a crisis that some describe as “unprecedented.”* Serious? Absolutely. Life-changing? Unquestionably. Worthy of all our attention? Definitely. But unprecedented? Thankfully, historians are speaking up to help make sense of what we are facing today, and to provide hope for what can come. John M. Barry — who, in Rising Tide, wrote one of the best histories I’ve read of how a disaster changed our country for the better — has also written a book that is invaluable in understanding our current crisis. Barry’s 2004 work, The Great Influenza: The Story of the Deadliest Pandemic in History, makes him the historian who arguably knows more than anyone about the 1918 flu influenza that is the public health event most often compared to today’s outbreak. Barry writes that in that year, “a new respiratory virus invaded the human population and killed between 50 million and 100 million people — adjusted for population, that would equal …

Reflect. Reconsider. Reset.

Navigating through difficult times is both a personal and communal journey. As we each  chart our course through this particular crisis, it is important to concentrate on the ways we can show love and live with hope. Inspiration for my journey comes from a cross section of writers, historians, thinkers, theologians, poets, activists, and friends. One of my personal favorites is Rebecca Solnit.  “When all the ordinary divides and patterns are shattered, people step up to become their brothers’ keepers,” Solnit writes. “And that purposefulness and connectedness brings joy even amidst death, chaos, fear, and loss.” In a 2016 interview with The On Being Project’s Krista Tippett — posted on the project’s website as one of the “conversations we’re longing to hear again and finding useful right now” — Solnit speaks of how the world wants to categorize and pigeonhole love. But coming from a place of abundance, where there is room for everyone, Solnit said, “There’s so much other work love has to do in the world.” That resonated with me. I had returned to Solnit …

An Ongoing Conversation with the Past

At the very beginning of 2018’s American Dialogue: The Founders and Us, historian Joseph J. Ellis lays out his personal self-evident truth. This guide star that leads his work is simple yet important: “The study of history is an ongoing conversation between past and present from which we all have much to learn.” I couldn’t agree more. Especially in times of crisis such as we face now. Over the book’s 200+ pages, Ellis demonstrates how just such a dialogue takes place in the hands of a talented historian, biographer, writer, and thinker immersed in the study of our nation’s founding. Focusing on key issues of our day, he carries on a rich, thoughtful, and challenging conversation with four founders that helps us go back to the beginning and understand some of their controversial decisions, and how that differs from choices we are making today. The questions are well chosen given our highly polarized times. Ellis notes that we are “currently incapable of sustained argument” as our creedal convictions — formed during the revolutionary era — bump …