All posts tagged: Leadership

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 …

Competency. Credibility. Empathy.

A crisis can be illuminating. It can strip away the façade of what we say we believe and expose our true natures. We can use a crisis to step into being our best selves. Or we can take a different route, such as acting out of cold-hearted self-interest to stockpile more than 17,000 bottles of hand sanitizer and attempt to profit from a pandemic. Along with illumination, a crisis can bring a moment of reckoning. In 2020, America is coming face-to-face with the dire consequences of a well-funded campaign that began in the 1950s to denigrate, hollow-out, and ultimately destroy good and competent government along with the maintenance of a strong and empathetic social contract. Our current crisis has brought those decisions front and center. That reckoning is at the heart of Anne Applebaum‘s recent article in The Atlantic magazine: The Coronavirus Called America’s Bluff.  Moments of stark illumination and national reckoning also tell us a great deal about our leaders. When it comes to leadership in a crisis, it turns out — surprise, surprise — that …

Servant Leadership

“The first responsibility of a leader is to define reality. The last is to say thank you. In between, the leader is a servant.” Max DePree, the long-time CEO of the furniture and design pacesetter Herman Miller, wrote those words in his small but influential book Leadership is an Art, and they’ve stuck with me through the years. In the early 1980s, as I was preparing to take my first leadership post as the executive director of a nonprofit organization, I read Robert K. Greenleaf’s 1977 book Servant Leadership: A Journey into the Nature of Legitimate Power and Greatness. A humanities major without any background in management or business, I was looking for guidance on how to lead, motivate, and manage people. Greenleaf’s words resonated with me, even if I didn’t come close to fully understanding their implications. “The servant-leader is servant first,” he wrote. “It begins with the natural feeling that one wants to serve, to serve first.” I went on to study other management and leadership theories, attended a Harvard Business School executive …

Just Say It

If I had just one piece of advice to give to colleagues, friends, and family, it would be pretty simple. Say “Thank you.” Say it early and often. Two recent conversations raised this in my consciousness. First, a senior professional and former colleague was assisting an emerging professional with a networking and outreach discussion. They met, and because she was impressed, the former colleague offered up additional assistance. While a verbal thank you may have been given at the end of lunch, there was no follow-up communication after the initial meeting to acknowledge the gift of time and offer of additional assistance. In a second instance, a friend mentioned that a member of her family found it difficult, if not impossible, to say thank you, even when she was the recipient of an extraordinary gift. These family members have had their differences through the years. But despite that, my friend expected an acknowledgement of minimal gratefulness. It never came. Connecting to say thank you is, from my perspective, extraordinarily important. Saying thank you, as my …

Under Promise and Over Deliver

One often hears the saying, “Under promise and over deliver.” It could even be labeled a Dad-ism. I know I’ve certainly said it more than once to my children over the years. But some recent research suggests that it isn’t the best way to relate to customers, stakeholders, clients, and—perhaps—even children. I began thinking about this old chestnut after being involved in a situation where someone promised several outcomes, none of which came to fruition in the timeframe suggested. The individual actually over promised and under delivered—a big issue in my book. Here’s the Cliff Notes version of the story: I did a walking tour through downtown with staff from our local government to discuss several design and development issues. In the follow-up, I was told that specific actions—graffiti removed from new posts in the bike lane, tree stumps removed, trees replaced, paving patches restored—would be taken by a certain time. In each instance, even though I didn’t ask, specific dates were part of the promise. Four weeks later and none of the deadlines had …

Boldness in Leadership

Doris Kearns Goodwin’s Leadership in Turbulent Times, is, as one would expect from the Pulitzer Prize-winning historian, a thoughtful analysis that deserves to be taken seriously. At a time when the country has entered the public phase of Donald Trump’s impeachment inquiry and as the fight for the Democratic presidential nomination—and perhaps the soul of the country—escalates during the twelve months before the 2020 election, there are lessons to be learned from the past. This 2018 work is a study of the life of four presidents and the ways in which they addressed major issues in fractured times: Abraham Lincoln (winning the war, ending slavery and saving the union); Theodore Roosevelt (responding to the sharp inequities and unfairness of the industrial revolution); Franklin D. Roosevelt (rebuilding a country out of the Great Depression); and Lyndon B. Johnson (the fight to ensure civil rights for all Americans). Kearns Goodwin observes that we have come through difficult periods before. In a more troubling sense, she also makes it clear that we have always had scoundrels in positions of …