Sleepless Nights and Too Much Sunshine

What I learned from trying to teach my children to sleep through the night.

I remember when our children were very young. One woke up laughing, the other, not so much. For those of you who know my family, I will leave you to guess which child responded with laughter and which responded with tears.

And I remember trying to teach them to sleep through the night. (Of course, I also remember setting up a borrowed video camera and recording our first born while he slept. Pretty exciting video, isn’t it?  But we were brand new parents.) But the process of training them to sleep through the night and go back to sleep when their little bodies awoke in the middle of the night was hard. There was a huge part of me that wanted to just pick them up and bring them into our bed and snuggle.  It seemed that between my wife and I, only one of us would have the strength to deal with the crying.  One of us would begin to cave in and the other would be strong.  Then the roles would reverse.  And on it went for days and days until we finally made it through the night.

What is a beleaguered parent to do?

Should I scoop them up and feed them every time they cried? Should I bring them into our bed to sleep? There is a problem with that approach. They were growing bigger, and they no longer needed to eat every two to three hours, and it would ultimately hurt them and be bad for them if we allowed them to never establish a healthy sleep pattern. They needed sleep, I needed sleep. Heaven only knows that their mother needed sleep!

So, what is the beleaguered leader to do?

The leadership lesson is that many times it is hard for people to get the concept that some hardship and some difficulty is necessary in life in order for our children to learn and to grow. It seems like the pendulum of our society has swung hard to the side of obtaining comfort, ease, and happiness at all times and at all costs. We may be in danger of raising a generation that no longer views work as a good and healthy pursuit, but rather it is more and more a means to support playtime, cars, trucks, and all manner of entertainment.

Perhaps this is why when hard times hit, or tragedy occurs (as they always do), people cannot begin to understand what has happened to them. Nor can they manage to find a way through hard work and perseverance to get out of the difficult situation that they find themselves in.

What does a leader need to consider today?

A Leader is Responsible for Their Relationships – Folks don’t seem to want to be responsible for their relationships or marriages when the hard times come. So, they move on to the next relationship.

A Leader is Responsible for Their Physical Health – Folks don’t seem to want to be responsible for their physical health. Don’t bother to eat right, just drink a shake and take some vitamins. When was the last time you sat down to a meal with real vegetables?

A Leader is Responsible for Their Financial Health – Folks don’t seem to want to be responsible for their financial health. The term “good steward” is not in their vocabulary.

A Leader is Responsible for Their Own Governance – Folks don’t seem to want to be responsible for governing themselves. I won’t go off on a political tirade. But folks are all too willing to let the government make all of their decisions and provide all of their wants and needs.

Am I generalizing?

Obviously, I am. But, the only reason you would even think that is because you have seen it and observed these things yourself.

How does all of this tie back to the example of my little ones learning to sleep through the night so many years ago?

It is simple really. I didn’t want to raise dependent, weak and incapable children who only know how to take the easy road. I wanted to raise children who were aware that life isn’t fair, that trials exist, and that we learn and we grow by facing adversity rather than running from it. I wanted them to be able to weather the storms that life sends their way. I wanted to see them become adults who take responsibility for their life and for their actions. I wanted them to grasp that what they do may have far reaching consequences. And I wanted them to be prepared to make the most important decision in life – – Who will they choose to marry and spend the rest of their life with?

I am a blessed man. My children have succeeded beyond my wildest dreams. They have each developed into strong, confident and capable members of society and they stand out because of the sometimes stark difference to modern culture. And here is the best part. They have each weathered the storms of life that have battered them from time to time.

In closing, consider this quote from an unknown author:

“All sunshine creates only deserts.”

A life of nothing but sunshine creates a barren and dry landscape. In that kind of environment, every living thing will wither and perish under the unrelenting sun. We all need a little rain from time to time.

Or consider what pastor and singer Wintley Phipps says about trials. He quotes an old southern black woman as saying:

“Child, if the mountain was smooth, you couldn’t climb it.”

You see, we need a few rough places to help us get to the next smooth place. And if we learn to face the storm and learn to endure the night, then the sunshine becomes much more precious to us.

There are many emotional intelligence and emotional agility implications to this topic. And I think that we need to view this in light of becoming more self-aware and more agile at then managing our own emotional responses.

Stay tuned in the coming days for more specific material on this topic of emotional agility.

I Didn’t Know It Was That Bad

The Power of Perspective

I Didn’t Know It Was That Bad

I got one of those lovely letters from the Homeowners Association that no one likes to receive. It told me that my driveway was too dirty. And it told me that I needed to clean my driveway. No, really. That is what it said. So, I borrowed a pressure washer from my son and set about the task of cleaning my driveway.

What I saw after the first spray of pressurized water hit the concrete was amazing. That first jet of water took off 19 years of accumulated dirt and gunk that had settled on it over the years. That first swath of high-pressure water took off that gunk and revealed concrete as it must have looked 19 years ago when it was poured and cured. To look at the concrete the day before would never have given me the hint that it was that “dirty.” In fact, I thought the HOA folks were a little crazy. But one look at the “clean” concrete next to the areas that I had not pressure washed yet showed that the concrete had indeed become very dark gray and almost black by comparison to the newly washed section.

This certainly gave me an interesting perspective on things. It made me a little self-reflective. What about my own life? Had I let it get dunked up with many years of accumulated dirt and grime? So, as a reference point, I left a little patch of concrete alone. I did not even get it wet. I wanted to leave it alone. That little dark patch on my driveway is a reminder of what the whole driveway looked like before the pressure washer hit it.

What is the Leadership Lesson?

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Waiting on the “Word”

What are you waiting to hear?

Waiting on the Word

As I arrived at the office today, parking spaces were plentiful. You could even find one close to the elevators in the parking garage. That can only mean one thing — Today is the day before a national holiday and many of the folks that are actually in the office today are just waiting on the “word.”

What “Word”?

We are waiting on the word “leave” from senior management that will say something like this: “Unless business reasons would make it otherwise imprudent, feel free to leave early this afternoon and begin to enjoy the July 4th holiday.” Those are the words everyone is waiting to hear. Days like today are the kinds of days that, unless you have something specific planned or are going to be out of town on vacation, it just doesn’t make sense to take the day off as a vacation today since it will be a short day anyway. Plus, you can be really productive in the time that you are there because there are only a handful of folks here and there are very few meetings that show up on your calendar. So, it is really a good day to get stuff done and get caught up on email or other administrative tasks that have slipped to the back burner lately. Like many others, I am just waiting for the word to come from our leader and I will exit with all due haste.

What is the Leadership Lesson here?

The leadership lesson is that from time to time we need to be asking ourselves about what message our followers may be waiting for. We need to ask ourself this question: “What ‘words’ are our followers waiting to hear from us?”

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When to Charge Ahead

And When to Leave it Alone

When to Charge Ahead

How do we determine when we are to charge ahead as leaders or leave it alone and deal with it another day?

Never put off until tomorrow . . . 

We have all been taught in elementary school that we should not put off until tomorrow a kindness that we can do today. But what about a tough decision that we must make as a leader? Is there ever a situation where we would want to put that off for another time down the road? 

When? That is the question!

When is it right to charge ahead and take the bull by the horns and lead in the midst of a difficult situation? And when is it right to stand back and leave the issue alone and take a more relaxed and non-confrontational approach? These are legitimate questions that I have wrestled with in my own mind for many years. I have been guilty of rushing in too hard, too fast, or too soon. And I have been equally guilty of ignoring or turning away from a situation that had a whole lot of downside and very little upside that would drain all of my mental or emotional energy.

The problem is in knowing when to charge ahead and seize the moment. And knowing when to relax and take a more measured approach to the issue that faces us.

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Projecting and Reflecting

A simple principle about leadership

Projecting and Reflecting

Our followers will reflect whatever you project. It is just that simple. It is also just that scary.

Many years ago when our children were very young, I was joking about their behavior (and by behavior I mean misbehavior) in Sunday School one morning. I jokingly said that they must have learned that behavior while playing with the other children. The response from the teacher was humorous but it stung my heart. It became one of the most haunting little statements that anyone ever made to me when I was a young parent. Here is what she said: “Children only do what they see at home.”

I was suddenly mortified. What if that was true? (And I believe that it is to a large extent.) What if those little eyes really are watching my every move? Fast forward now many years later and I can tell you that my children have grown into incredible adults. They are each wonderful parents and role models for their own children now.

But stay with me, please. This is not an article about parenting. It is really a quick article about leadership outside of the home. And it is about how our followers perceive us. In other words, how do they perceive the leadership message or methodology that I am projecting? And can I tell what I am projecting by how they reflect my leadership?

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“Empathy…FUHGETTABOUTIT”

Leadership Lessons from the Shuttle Program

Empathy?

I have been spending a lot of time at work recently helping to implement a project that is dividing those that will be affected by it. Some are very excited about the opportunities that the project will provide, and others are concerned about negative impacts that they fear it will bring. The resistance has gotten political, and the war of words has permeated both conventional media and social media. Although I do not interact directly with those in opposition, I find myself wanting to reach out to them to correct a lot of the misinformation on which they are basing their statements and to chastise them for being so ugly in their choice of words, especially on Facebook and in website comments.

Since positions on this project are so sharply divided, it is obvious that, regardless of the outcome, one side or the other is going to be disappointed, bitter, angry, and even scared. I’ve had the chance to watch the project’s leaders reach out to those who are so critical of them. Those leaders have resisted the temptation to criticize and stifle discussion. Rather they have indicated a willingness to listen and to hear the background and justification for the fears. They have acknowledged that some of the concerns are, in fact, legitimate for some, and have offered ways to mitigate those impacts. In short, they have shown Empathy.

An Obvious Lack of Empathy from History

Now, Empathy does nothing to change the situation itself. The “facts of the case” remain the same. However, Empathy does speak to the heart of the individual. Being understood and having your feelings legitimized has a softening effect and even a healing component. It can be the difference between just experiencing disappointment as opposed to feeling steamrolled…discomfort instead of pain.

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Adaptive and Agile Leadership

Which One Are You?

Adaptive and Agile

So many of the world’s problems, and the issues that organizations, businesses, and people face every day can seem intractable and unsolvable. Leadership consultants Ronald Heifetz, Alexander Grashow and Marty Linsky discussed a new way to lead the charge to change in their book in 2009 entitled, “Adaptive Leadership”.

Adaptive Leadership calls for moving beyond outdated approaches and embracing new skills and attitudes to guide your organization in the 21st century. Adaptive leadership combines established ways of leading with new skills and new perspectives for dealing with unprecedented challenges.

I am currently engaged in writing a book about this need for adaptive leadership. I am choosing to talk about it in terms of being “agile” in our leadership. I don’t believe the words are interchangeable. But they are certainly synergistic.

What is the difference?

The differences to me are subtle. But they are real. An adaptive leader is usually discussed in terms of their ability to bring change to an organization or to guide the organization through a change that may be thrust upon them Agile leaders, on the other hand, are more concerned with the people and the processes that will be affected by the change.

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Ignorant or Oblivious Leaders

Is there any real difference?

Are You Ignorant or Oblivious?

Did you have a chance yet to read my article on the importance of “thinking” from last week? If not, I think it is well worth the few moments to step back and read that one first to get a baseline.

Just like that old saying that I found in an old frame, I know that there are some things that I know. And I know there are some things that I don’t know. The problem is that there are potentially a lot of things that I don’t know that I don’t know. Do you know?

That sounds almost like a line from a Gilbert & Sullivan musical. For those of you who are not theater buffs or who are under the age of 50, go “Google it.”

There were a lot of comments sparked and conversations started about the importance of knowledge and awareness of our own leadership situation. And those comments and conversations have caused me to want to take another look at this issue of ignorance and obliviousness.

There is a difference

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Leaders and Conflict

What can you do about it?

Leaders and Conflict

I have been thinking a lot lately about conflict and conflict resolution. I think we can all agree that some level of conflict is unavoidable. However, how we face it and whether or not we resolve that conflict says a great deal about our own leadership styles and abilities.

Consider the following statement by Warren Bennis, one of the foremost writers on leadership and organizational and management theory.

“Leaders do not avoid, repress, or deny conflict, but rather see it as an opportunity.” 

Leaders, this is one of your primary responsibilities. You cannot delegate this to one of your followers. Nor can you pretend that conflicts do not occur within the organization that you lead.

Conflict is unavoidable

I have spent much of my adult life working in the corporate world during the week and serving in a non-profit and volunteer organization on weeknights and weekends. And let me assure you that conflict is common to all organizations. Yes, you will even find conflict within churches and religious organizations. But we, as leaders, have the responsibility to sense conflict at its earliest stages and resolve it before it affects the entire organization.

True leaders do not avoid it nor do they run from conflict. I am not suggesting that they go and seek it out or that they invent it where it does not exist. But, great leaders must lead in times of calm and in times of conflict.

Conflict must be resolved

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Rockhopper Penguins

Leadership Lessons from an Unlikely Source

rockhopper-penguins

It would be a great thing if I could choose from where inspiration would come. But that is not the case. Today it comes from a documentary that I was watching recently about the migratory habits of penguins. That’s right, penguins!

What did I see?

I saw a group of very dedicated penguins trying, trying, and trying again to come ashore on one of the Falkland Islands and return to their nesting ground. With each attempt to come ashore onto a steep and rocky shore, another wave would come crashing in and sweep them off the narrow ledges that they were standing on as they tried to ascend the steep cliffs to its breeding grounds. It would wash them back out to sea and they would have to swim back and begin the ascent up the rocky cliff as wave upon wave tried to knock them back down.

The easy leadership analogy

The easy leadership analogy would be to take their persistence in relentlessly pursuing their goal of reaching their breeding grounds. The urge to breed is certainly a driving force in their lives. In fact, that drive is one of the strongest in our lives as well. These little penguins would try and try, and try again. And more often than not, they would be knocked off the cliffs and fall back down below and bounce into the surging turf. Fortunately, their little bodies were covered by a thick layer of fat and feathers to protect them from the elements. And each time they fell they would bounce around and then pop back up.

The other leadership analogy

But then I saw it.

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