character, effectiveness, Leadership, Reflection, remembering

Doing Great Work

At this stage of my life, funerals of various kinds are a regular event in contrast to weddings – though I did attend one on Saturday where the bride and groom made their way to a small church on Toronto Island from the mainland by canoe.

Walter Pitman OC Oont would have approved. Doing things a different way was something he excelled at.  He lived a full 89 years with many careers and achievements – secondary school teacher, first elected member of the New Democratic Party to the federal government, member of the provincial parliamentant so much more.  Electoral losses later never slowed him down.  He subsequently became Dean of Arts at Trent University, President of Ryerson Techological Institute, head of the Ontario Arts Council, head of the Ontario Instutute for Studies in Education – and in retirement the biographer of five outstanding Canadian musicians.  He and his wife Ida were inveterate arts attenders and I first met them as delegates of a major choral conference where they joined a massed choir for each of my eight years on the job. Incredibly modest about his own abilities, Walter always said to me, “You’re doing great work!”.

It was good to be cut down to size at his service of celebration.  We heard from a theatre director that he always said the same thing to him.  And we even heard in a moving tribute by his daughter that he said the same thing to his children.  But perhaps the best tribute of all came when she said of her parents, “Any time any of us came into the room – children, grandchildren and now the 10 great grandchildren – their eyes would light up.  A lovely memory of a man whose enthusiasm and support lit up so many of our eyes that evening.

 

Standard
character, effectiveness, Leadership, Learning, Reflection

A different take on leadership

This past week I attended a meeting relating to the roll out of a strategic plan. The agenda was  to review the requirements for leadership and leadership training.  The context was for a mainline church denomination but some of the discussion could apply more broadly.

Several participants had been asked to research and bring  leadership concepts and common key words emerged for leadership roles.  Words like “mediating”, “perfecting”,  offering” and “blessing” appeared in one report.  In another the author had been fond of the letter “C” – and used nouns like “character”, “calling”, “competence” and “community”.  “Servant” leadership was also on the table.

My own contribution came from a longer paper I wrote some years earlier and I focused first on changes in  world view, vision and mission, structural change, personal characteristics and personal development.  My key words echoed some of the others – “disicipline”, “humility” and  “learner”.  I was also strong on “collaboration” rather than “hierarchy” even though we are still working within a hierarchical structure. But leader still assumes followers and someone has to take the first step.

The most interesting submission was a summary of a work by Ed Friedman entitled A Failure of Nerve. The writer of the summary had limited himself to 500 words and boiled down the role of the leader to a non-anxious presence.  We spent little time on Friedman’s idea in the meeting, but I had read his book some years before and its mention whetted my appetite to return to it.

A Failure of Nerve  was compiled after Firedman’s death in 1996 by his daughter and students and has been recently reissued.  It is timely. Friedman was a rabbi and psychotherapist by training and as well as founding a successful congregation he served as advisor to six US presidents as well as to many senior church leaders and individual clients. Even before his death he saw that America in the nineties had become a frightened society, fearing change and seeking safety as opposed to the spirit of adventure of its early explorers and founders.  He’s strongly critical of this stance and challenges us to change our mental models.

Friedman is often caustic and witty – and several readers have collected maxims that represent the substance of his thinking.  Here are some that apply to leadership:

  • Leadership can be thought of as a capacity to define oneself to others in a way that clarifies and expands a vision of the future.
  • ‘no good deed goes unpunished; chronic criticism is, if anything, often a sign that the leader is functioning better! Vision is not enough.
  •  Leaders need “… to focus first on their own integrity and on the nature of their own presence rather than through techniques for manipulating or motivating others.”
  • Leadership through self-differentiation is not easy; learning techniques and imbibing data are far easier. Nor is striving or achieving success as a leader without pain: there is the pain of isolation, the pain of loneliness, the pain of personal attacks, the pain of losing friends. That’s what leadership is all about.here

Much of where Friedman is coming from is defining church congregations and enterprise units as  family systems, a concept developed fully by therapist Murray Bowen. It posits that we call rational  in congregations and enterprises is always framed by the emotional responses learned in our personal birth and extended families.  Those families and tribes, like all systems, seek equilibrium.  When things get tense, it’s likely that learned behavior in earlier systems are in play.  When things are going well, Friedman says, expect sabotage.

The remedy is for the leader to develop self-differentiation rather than to try to persuade or motivate others to change.If a non-anxious presence is required it assumes there is already anxiety and conflict in the room.  But it is working on one’s own development that allows others to learn by example – and take responsibility for their own development.

There is much more to  learn in Friedman’s approach – and that will be a feature of future posts.

Standard
character, Leadership, Reflection

FIVE FUNERALS

That’s how many I have already attended – so far – in 2017.  It’s characteristic of my time of life when friends or their spouses pass away.  All these so far have been males. In some cases, I knew the wives better as classmates or volunteer colleagues. In my own family, it has meant a lot when people turn up for a visitation or a funeral so I try to return the kindness.

Of course for most,  funerals are passé these days.  Instead people gather at the golf club or a bar, have a few rounds of drinks and share memories and stories.  There is validity in this – but I wonder if that marking of a death glves the kind of closure that a traditional funeral does –  with its words of comfort, words of inspiration for those left behind, challenges to carry forward the best qualities of the beloved people we have lost.

The most recent funeral yesterday was the most inspiring of the five. The setting was a cathedral dating back to 1833.  People were lining up to get in an hour and a half before the service started and they were smart to do so because every seat was taken.  Among the guests of honour were a former governor General of Canada, the Lieutenant Governor of Ontario and its Premier.  There were dignitaries from other denominations, an endless procession of robed bishops and clergy. And what they all had in common was love for a man named Terence Finlay – but who always said on meeting anyone new, “Just call me Terry”.  In his life of nearly 80 years he had many titles – husband, father, grandfather, uncle, aunt, Anglican priest, parish rector, Bishop, Archbishop – and after retirement,  interim priest while parishes looked for a new one, chaplain to other bishops, and a member of a commission designed to heal the hurts and injustices of one of the most worst violations of his Anglican church – the role in its residential schools.

Terry was working up to Christmas of 2016 and told everyone that being back in parishes was something he loved.  I saw him in early January when he was giving a final blessing at the first funeral I attended in the year.  Soon after came the news of a serious diagnosis – and messages of decline, but always coupled with “He’s still cheerful”.  The timing of his death, while expected still came as a surprise.

We were told he had planned his own funeral.  At the visitation the night before, his widow told me, “It won’t be like anything that you are used to.”  She was right.  The long entry procession took place to the sound of a drum and a smudging ceremony with the singing of a mournful loud chant sung by a woman with a stunning voice.  Before that we had heard a jazz pianist play “It’s a Wonderful World”.  While the funeral liturgy followed a traditional pattern, the choices of hymns and readings were Terry’s own favorites – all inspiring and positive.  It was poignant to hear something that contrary to the prediction was totally familiar – arrangements by a musician who was a dear friend and whose funeral was number three in my 2017 attendance – among those arrangements, Leonard Cohen’s Hallelluia. We all joined in its chorus as the long procession departed.

Terry had time for everyone.  One woman summed it well when she simply said – “He was so kind and he always had time for everybody”. At one time he visited a social centre dealing with sex workers.  One of the ladies loved his purple ecclesiastical shirt and wanted one just like it.  He named the store and said, Just tell them Terry sent you”.  He was funny,  remarkably humble and not afraid to admit his mistakes and say how sorry he was.

When he asked the Primate (Senior Bishop of the Anglican Church of Canada) to preach the homily several weeks before, he said, “Everything is all arranged.  It will be lovely and I won’t have to do anything but just lie there and enjoy it.”

He did – and we did too. A fitting end to a long life well lived.  Rest in peace.

Standard
character, Leadership, politics, Reflection, self realization

GREATNESS

Remember the lines from Julius Caesar

Some are born great, some achieve greatness and some have greatness thrust upon them

One can watch leaders as The Independent did this weekend and make their own assessment of what leadership really is:

The German Chancellor,  Angela Merkel was born in a family of modest means.  Donald Trump was born to a wealthy one.  Both achieved greatness on their own though one started with additional advantage; and both had additional greatness come their way.

But as The Independent observes.  Angela Merkel has now become the leader of the free world – a role usually ascribed to the leader of the US. The current one has squandered what was thrust upon him.

What it says is that character and integrity matter. How one fulfils the role is what counts – not titles. Most of us have modest titles in life – if any!  But how we carry out those roles will matter in the long run.

Standard
character, effectiveness, politics, Reflection

PERSISTENCE

two

It’s interesting that women can be silenced but men can be allowed to go on reading the same thing.  But it’s also a reminder that we have to continue to be activists no matter what our gender.  I was glad to see the suggestion in a recent New York Times that this is an analog process as well as a digital one and there were a few reminders for any of us no matter what country we live in

  • Educate ourselves by reading legislative documents – not just people’s commentaries on them
  • Know who our political representatives are at municipal, state or provincial and national levels. Visit their websites and read their newsletters.
  • When we have strong views on issues, let politicians know.  Visit their office, phone them. Individual letters make much more impact than polls and questionnaires. Ringing phones have more momentum than tweets.
  • Join advocacy groups that work on things we care about and support their advocacy efforts
  • Let companies know when we question their political support – give them positive as well as negative feedback
  • Most of all – when we know that information is questionable when we hear friends utter it, respond – but gently rather than stridently.  By saying, I notice. . . . ,  I wonder . . . . we allow both ourselves and others their integrity.  We’re going to have to keep that in mind when we inhabit divided states.
Standard
character, media, Reflection

Political Landscapes

Well who says that August  is boring!  My day started with digesting yesterday’s Canadian news about the Duffy trial and its star witness, Nigel Wright.  The wheels of justice move slowly so we are only now getting around to events that happened in 2013.  Memories of being glued to  TV during Watergate poured back, but this time it’s different.  Instead of memos – we now have email correspondence threads – complete with all those endless repeats.  The CBC’s host of Power& Politics is in the courtroom tweeting a stream of almost verbatim Q&A. Reading the more thoughtful press reports aftewwards gives a definite sense of déjã vu.

An inside view of the PMO brings politics down to earth with a bang.  Even though CBC news head honcho Peter Mansbridge thinks it gives a fascinating glimpse of what is really going on, it could be duplicated in the internal memos of any office including his own –  in its full banality – messes other people have created,  protecting the boss,  saving their own skins – though the scale of the game here is a little bigger.  In most offices you don’t have a staff member claiming to cover lots of $90k  items on his own.  And quoting Matthew 6:3 as a rationale for left-hand right-hand actions did inject a new level of interest, as journalists suddenly had to bone up on theology.  Even Facebook Anglicans chimed in.  One claimed to be a classmate of Wright while another admitted preparing him for confirmation.

Some of my own dots connected this week here too.  I learned from an except of John Ibbotson’s new book that Stephen Harper enrolled in my alma mater, Trinity College Toronto; he left after three weeks feeling he didn’t fit in.  I sympathized.  Harper came from suburban Etobicoke; I entered Trinity College many years earlier from a small Ontario city, not from one of Toronto’s elite private schools. But being in residence gave me a tribe that allowed me to survive and even thrive – unlike Harper after his first lonely three weeks.   On the other hand, Wright – a member of an Anglo Catholic parish in Toronto with strong links to Trinity through their joint benefactor, Gerald Larkin – would fit right in.

But it’s election season – and the Duffy trial TV stories are interspersed with election ads and campaign road news clips.  How did campaigns get so goofy – in both the US and Canada?  To start with they both go on forever.  Politics becomes a round of attacks and counter-attacks. Even the New York Times is solemnly chiming in.  After listing all Harper’s shortcomings it asks, “Whether or not he loses, he will leave Canada more ignorant than he found it. “The real question for the coming election is a simple but grand one: Do Canadians like their country like that?”

The response from this voter – aka as citizen or taxpayer or middle classee depending on who is talking to me – needs to be  – uh uh – followed by some laughter before I settle down to some serious thinking about it.  We can start with the PMO philosophy:

Sigursdson Photo

or move on and enjoy reading The Lapine

elizabeth-may-and-stephen-harper

“Harper Says He Found Elizabeth May’s Cleavage Distracting During Debate”

But Elizabeth Renzetti takes my prize for her article in the Globe and Mail about staged press coverage – the people behind the political leaders – in particular the hard hats behind the prime minister.  How did they get there?  Why were they there? What are they thinking about when he noted that he was the only person in the PM office not to know about some pretty absorbing preoccupations?  And why, she asks, “did they clap when it came to the part about Canada being richer and safer”?  She cites the artificiality of the whole process.

Justin Trudeau apparently has to take a cue from the “He’s not Ready” attack ad to reply to it rather than ignore it. Personally rather than “I’m Ready”  I think he could have come up with “Justin Time”.

Renzetti says we get the campaigns we deserve. She is right.  If the most popular shows are The Amazing Race – which I get to watch when my grandsons get to choose –  or if I submit to canned addresses from  teleprompters  and read “bright lines/ message lines put out by the PMO – perhaps I am equally complicit in a  dumbed-down world where only the obsessive achievers are worth watching while I -sprawled on the couch – mutely reach for another potato chip.  The only secret weapon left might be a Newfie comedian or two; we export a lot of them. Maybe it’s time to ask them to come home.

Standard
character, Leadership, purpose, Reflection

Salvation through Cleaning

The morning’s Globe and Mail offers some strange advice in its business section this morning.  “Clean Home, Clear Corporate Minds”  shows how far an MBA can take you from the real world and it makes me so glad I never thought of pursuing one. The article starts with the experience of a business executive who takes a break from her regular duties to travel to Montreal from San Fransciso to scrub floors, wipe desktops – and horror of horrors, clean toilets. This experience produces an “aha” moment of oneness with the universe and sends her back to Califormia productive and raring to go.

Well duh.  Had she ever thought of doing cleaning at home? Probably not.  Of course working for Zenith Cleaning as a volunteer meant she had to don a uniform and actually enter a restaurant wearing it. (I wondered if the uniform involved denim and whether she had exchanged it for her own jeans costing $200 and up. – but maybe not)  The experience of wondering if people would reject her on the basis of how she looked made her feel humble and suddenly there was an epiphany. Cleaning was a way to mindfulness.

The company founder and CEO agrees that “cleaning is as much a spiritual service as a physical act” – and has created a side business ” inviting executives to come to Montreal and work alongside his professional cleaning crews” and join them as “pilgrims”..  I guess the feckless executives could save their companies money by doing the same tasks on their own turf – but apparently they need training in using unnamed cleaning tools – (sponges? dustcloths?) – as well as operating vacuums and mops.  Sounds as though these guys and gals don’t get home much to watch the hired help – or perhaps spouses.

The article goes on to note that promoting mindfulness in the workplace is not limited to Zenith Cleaning but is also followed by Google, Apple, Deutsche Bank and General Mills – who “bring in speakers, including Buddhist monks”  – though the purpose is to improve productivity as much as relieving stress or quieting minds.  Meditation and yoga are also encouraged. An associate professor of strategy and leadership at McGill’s business school notes that people are looking for “deeper purpose beyond profit in their lives and their work”. Spirituality without religion rules. Zenith Cleaning’s founder notes that he had a conversion.  “I think I would be in investment banking and doing something very normal –

Stop right there.  Investment banking isn’t something very normal at all. If that’s what he learned at the business school that invites him back every year to speak, he’s been badly served by the thousands of dollars he’s spent on his own education. That kind of world view is one of the things that makes us so completely messed up.

But it’s telling that all this language – purpose, pilgrims, caring, meditation, humilty, spiritual awakening – have all been co-opted from the world of religions – along with the favorite business buzz-word, “mission”.   We are confusing two worlds that are pretty much opposed. Did the business schools ever think of inviting anyone from the faith tradtion that formed the basis of capitalism at its inception?  The space they are trying to fill shows the world of post Christendom does have needs that are not being met in a very effective way.

but it’s also a pretty firm indictment of communities of faith in their inabiity to compete with the religion of business with their new dogma  apostles and disciples. No one even thought of asking them.  I spent the past weekend with Phyllis Tickle – a self-described “uppity woman” who travels the world with some interesting insights as to where Christendom in particular is headed. She says it’s in the middle of one of its every five hundred year rummage sales and no one is quite sure where it will land. It may be down but its history shows this pattern of coming back changed but not out.   Nevertheless, religions – and Christendom in particular –  better speed up their determination to recapture the ownership of some of this language and thinking by owning it with more insights than we are seeing from the business schools.

 

Standard