On a Well-Rounded Leadership Style

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As someone stepping into the CEO role for a nonprofit organization for the first time, it has been quite the developmental journey to embrace a leadership style that works for the creative and collaborative culture of the Children’s Creativity Museum. My understandings of who I am and who I need to be as a leader for the organization have evolved over the fast-paced and packed year that I’ve officially held the role.

A recent realization that is providing me a lot of peace of mind is that I don’t actually have to choose one particular leadership style. Sure, my staff wants consistency, AND adaptive leadership requires that we have an array of leadership styles into which we can tap in order to respond to a changing world. I can be authoritative and make solid decisions, AND I can be collaborative in thinking through a project. I can feel like I’m alone at the top, AND I can consciously connect with my support network.

It’s like shifting gears. When I am going uphill, I can kick it up a notch. And when I’m on the highway, I can cruise.

The choice in leadership style, then, becomes not about who I need to be forever-and-ever-amen, but rather what is required of me in a given situation.

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The Priorities Triangle

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I was recently talking with the teens I mentor at the Children’s Creativity Museum. They were expressing concern about how they were going to stay focused on studies, friendships, family, etc., with all of the different things they expected to compete for their time and attention in college. I reassured them that getting clear about priorities was something they would always confront.

Some leadership experts, like Bill George, speak about a values compass, being clear about the intangible yet important beliefs that shape how we look at the world. For example, if one is committed to Compassion, how are you helping to relieve the suffering of another?

This was a bit too abstract for my teens. So I shared with them the “Priorities Triangle.” The triangle is considered a “power symbol,” because it is based on the number 3. A tripod is solid when its legs are spread out as a triangle. I asked my teens to consider the following question:

What are your top 3 priorities in life?

What would you say are the non-negotiables of your life? What are the things that you, for sure, would not ever let drop? Family? Best friends? God? Volunteerism?

By assessing how we invest our time and energy against these top 3 priorities, we get a better sense of whether or not we are making choices that prioritize what matters most to us.

On Gaining Power Through Surrender

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Surrender is a paradox. When we surrender, we actually achieve real and authentic power. How is it possible that we are more powerful in surrendering?

The Buddha discovered that the mind enslaves us in conditioning that is reinforced through the repetition of habits. Jesus was a revolutionary precisely because he represented a break from the rigid and repetitive ways of thinking that dictated his society. Krishna counsels Arjuna on the battlefield that it is in the present moment that we must master our minds, which keep us trapped in the vicious cycle of samsara, of the past repeating itself in our present and future. Two days ago, our Muslim brethren began Ramadan, which involves fasting, a ritual break from those things that keep us apart from God in each and every moment.

We are slaves to our conditioning. Our habits define us. We don’t even realize the ways in which we are gripped by them: Our friend says something, and we already know what they are going to say. We make the same commute in traffic, and next thing we know, we have somehow guided ourselves back home without even remembering how we got there. Our partner says something with a bit of a tone, and the next thing we know, we’re fighting the same argument we’ve fought a hundred times before.

Surrender offers us freedom from this conditioning. It is a recognition that we are trapped in our conditioned ways of thinking, speaking, and doing, and saying, “I know where this is going to take me, and I don’t want to go there anymore. I choose to give up, trusting that I will be led to a place I’ve never been before.”
It is a surrender to every possibility made available by the unknown. It is in this infinitude of possibilities that we derive power, a power that can only be accessed through surrender.

Surrender = An Act of Wisdom

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There are moments in life where one wakes up, looks around, and asks oneself, “Is this all there is?” … Is this the relationship I want to continue with? Is this the job I saw myself being in? Is this how I want to spend the days of my life? … These are the critical moments of tenderness and humility when we choose between settling and leaping into the unknown, between surrender and resignation.

I was once asked, “What is the difference between surrender and resignation?” Resignation and settling means that we have given up hope. It is the limited self no longer seeing any possibility beyond what we already know.

In contract, surrender is an act of wisdom. It is a profound acceptance of Life. It is saying “I don’t know” and putting all that we are into the hands of something greater than ourselves.

In this way, surrender is not an act of capitulation, but rather one of victory for our Highest Self.

On Making It Count

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Recently, I had a conversation with my boss/mentor/friend that made a huge difference for me. I was talking through with her around my attitude towards and participation in a primary relationship in my life … about the ways in which I continually have to balance being authentic and honoring my own experience with being responsible for how I feel impacts that relationship and other relationships in my life. … In my mind, yes, it’s true that I am allowed to have and express my feelings, AND I can’t be emotionally-vomiting on people.

She asked me a good question: How do I want to use my air time?

Do I want to use my precious time in the relationship unconscious and simply reacting to the circumstances of the relationship? Or do I want to use that valuable time to be fully present and awake to and in the relationship?

Making it count doesn’t only mean honoring our own feelings and experience as human beings, which ebbs and flows like the tide. It also means diving deeper to that place of consciousness that is unchanging in the face of Life so that we can choose to bring 100% of ourselves to every moment of the relationship.

On Doing Nothing

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This past month has felt enormously difficult, and I feel like my reaction has been to block out anything that threatens to disrupt the semblance of Balance that I’ve managed to achieve for myself through it all. Taking an honest inventory, though, I recognize all the ways in which wanting to survive through the day led to me being and doing things that, in a better space, I would not necessarily choose to do.

We get triggered all the time. It is a function of having senses that give us stimuli and a mind that interprets that stimuli based on past experiences, our current emotional states, aspirations, meta-narratives, and other thoughts. As a result, our humanity has us react: We suddenly get upset, angry, righteous, defeated, or insulted. Then we react again, saying things we don’t mean, shutting down, or acting in ways that we might later regret.

Yet, if I accept that triggers happen all the time – rather than acting from the place of “Why is this happening to me?” like I’ve been singled out by Life to be hurt – I begin to create enough space in my life to see that not every trigger requires a reaction. Not every situation need become a battle that needs to be fought (and won). …

Sometimes, the best thing to do is to do nothing.

On Developing a Positive Relationship to Suffering

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It’s been a long while since I have written a blog post. I happen to be developing an e-course on “Living a Sacred, Fulfilling Life” and it seems that Life has been providing me with ample opportunities to move through my own curriculum.

One key idea in that curriculum with which I am being at this moment is transforming our relationship to suffering. As the Buddha realized, it is natural that, as human beings, we experience suffering because having that experience comes along with the grasping/desire-seeking parts of us that are hard-wired after millennia of human evolution. And as a means of coping, we have developed a resistance to the suffering caused by unfulfilled desires.

Even if the resistance automatically comes up, this does not mean that we do not have a choice as to how we react to that resistance and thus, to the suffering. We can begin to transform our relationship to our suffering such that it begins something positive from which we can learn.

So my mantra right now is: “May my suffering bring clarity and lead me back to my truth.”