Reflection

It is like that …

 

Be careful how you interpret the world.  It is like that.

-Erich Heller

 My laptop is back.  I had noticed it was behaving strangely and taking forever to boot up in the morning, but last week it failed.  I headed off for GeekSquad which had sold me the unit two years ago.    Because I maintain a couple of websites, I stressed the urgency of a repair and went home to wait. I had saved all my documents on USB sticks and the updates were recent.

If you have any doubts about your addictions, take away your devices for a few days. “Left to my own devices” had a whole new meaning and made me ponder my interpretation of the world and what was currently in it.  Here was some of it – readings for a couple of discussion groups, daily piano practice (I’m back doing this after resuming lessons), exercises to remedy a problem with the sciatic nerve, finishing reading a novel, cleaning the apartment, needing to do the laundry, grocery shopping.  These might be seen as a reasonable workload for an 82 year old.

But they weren’t.  I was obsessed with the absence of the laptop.  Where was the more sombre view of what was happening in the US as documented in the New York Times online?  What did I owe the accountant for my taxes – since the invoice now came electronically?  What were they saying on Washington Week?  This might seem obsessively American.  I live in Canada.  I had access to mail on a tablet and a phone.  But I felt as though someone had removed part of my brain and it was in the shop. Where were the 20 or 30 newsletters that came through Unroll,me?

Thus, I was ready for of all things – theology.  A book, Life Abundant, was buried on a shelf but I hadn’t looked at it for years.  I met the author at a west coast retreat centre some years ago and told her I had just bought her book. “Which one?” she asked, and on hearing the title, she responded, “I’m so glad.  I’ve been writing the same book 14 times so far and this is the best version yet”.  Amazon tells me that there are later ones, but this one is more than sufficient.

The book’s subtitle is Rethinking Theology and Economy for a Planet in Peril. Sallie McFague taught at Vanderbilt Theology School for more than 30 years and is now based at Vancouver School of Theology where she is still teaching and conducting research.  She starts this book by explaining that she has spent many years teaching religious autobiography, but when challenged, realized that she had never written her own.  It’s a reminder that we all have one – whether we are part of a denomination, or agnostic or atheist. The last thing we generally have time for thought as to what it is.

During re-reading, I was giving myself brownie points that reflection was the most frequent tag on my blog posts, but theology is more than that.  I’m generally optimistic and see life more as a comedy than a tragedy.  These days it’s more like a farce with a reality show leader keeping us all glued for the latest episode where we couldn’t make this stuff up.  We are amused and appalled.  But what does it say about us?  I’m so busy being a spectator of this soap opera that I don’t need to reflect on my own life – and the fact that I’ve got to be further along on the downward slope than I want to be.

The laptop is back.  The hard drive has been replaced and so has a new version of MS Office with an amazing number of new distractions.  I have been surprised at how quickly I am up and running.  Press a button on the modem – and we’re back on line. Bring back the mail services. Check. Bookmark all the frequently visited sites. Check.  Bring back all the saved files. Check. Anything missing?  Personal photos weren’t among the saved files.  I’ve just obliterated a major part of two decades.  Still I later found many of them on a stick.  But the lack of care about what really matters has hit home.

So what is this theology stuff?  McFague says it is “words about God” but refreshingly she reminds us that it is about an interpretation of the world as we see it.  Any theology is going to involve three C’s – context, content and criteria.  That’s going to keep us busy for a bit.

Context reminds us that the documents of any faith are written in a particular time in history. These reflect the interpretation of the writers based on their own understanding of the universe in which they dwell.  The reflections will be of necessity partial and relative to the context. For this reason. McFague says that any theology needs an adjective in front of it to clarify the group espousing it.  The adjective in front of “Christian” for example, might be “liberation, feminist, fundamentalist, progressive – or a name of hundreds of denominations with different emphases and views.  The speaker matters.

Content depends on experience – but again McFague notes that experience is the channel and the means that it comes through – not the content itself.  Something comes into our life as a revelation or an insight that concerns the relationship of a god or creator that is of such importance that it affects our orientation to the world and our behavior.  It’s not religious experience so much as ordinary experience.

The big question then becomes – who is our neighbour.  I asked this question in a discussion group in my parish church last week.  The answers were what I expected – the person who lived down the block or in the apartment next door – whose name we might not know.  But as I look out my window from a high floor, I can observe a barrier around a tree that is going to be removed to accommodate reconstruction of a water reservoir.  I live in a large metropolitan North American city.  Are my neighbours people of colour? People who live in the third world? People of other faiths? Other creatures? Oceans? A tree?

Our world contains questions that are more than we can ask or imagine.  We have to explore further.   The criteria will have to wait for a later post.

 

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effectiveness, Learning, Reflection

What we want

I am preparing for a long meeting of an organization where I am an active volunteer and reading preparation materials in advance.  Because we work with children and vulnerable adults we undergo something described as Sexual Misconduct Training.

That title here is a good example of a misnomer – and it also reflects an error in thinking. Rather than making something that we don’t want go away, we need to focus on the desired result – a safe and caring place for everyone demonstrated by behaviour that is defined, understood and practised.  As it stands, the title sounds like training in the exact thing that we don’t want.

Rather than fixing problems, focusing on a desired outcome is a good plan for both training descriptions and strategy formation.

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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.

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Benjamin Zander, Leadership, Learning, Reflection, Teamwork

Leading

The orchestral conductor, Benjamin Zander, is a frequent business speaker and famous for his TED talk. now viewed by more than eight million people.  Conductors are sometimes viewed as the last of the great dictators.  Zander is different.  He had an epiphany some years ago when he realized that the conductor of an orchestra plays a different role.

The insight transformed his conducting and his orchestral musicians immediately noticed the difference.  Now he’s a leader who asks for input in the form of written comments at every rehearsal.  He understands that the musicians’ skills and experience enhance his own.

His gifts as a teacher are remarkable too and they are now shared through masterclasses for all of us on YouTube.  The students perform with technical brilliance before he enters in with a consistent message –  it is time to relax and let go of the kind of competitive excellence their preparatory training has provided and instead relate to their audience.  Transformation happens before our own shining eyes.  (This sample and others are well worth watching now or at a later time. To enjoy it to advantage if your time or tolerance is limited, listen a bit to the beginning and move the arrow to 9:00 minutes and watch some hair pulling – not a conventional teaching technique – but see how effectively it works in creating a totally different kind of performer).

Zander’s passion is for introducing classical music to those unfamiliar with it and he does so with incredible skill and experience in making audiences and performers connect.  It’s a worthwhile example of how a leader inspires and transforms performance.

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Beauty, Creating, Learning, Reflection, self realization

Pathways to Change

In the previous post I spoke of Rosamund Zander’s guidance for individual change. She also dealt with bringing change to families and organizations by recognizing that others, like ourselves are walking stories.  As the book progresses she focuses on energy.

She starts with a scientific analogy.  Energy becomes amplified, she says, when in proximity to waves of similar tone and length.  Visionary people use it that way too – though her she defines energy as commitment to something broader than our personal concerns.  And it’s not just about  getting one’s own way.  We enter relationships of collaboration and become catalysts to create a new story.

The physical world is dynamic – an ecosystem where things connect, react and change. The canopy of trees outside my window is awash with green where weeks ago there were naked limbs. Blossoms will turn to fruit, seeds will scatter, new growth will erupt and old growth with succumb to lightning or disease..

It’s a fractal universe too – in nature and in computer simulations and even in emotions when we share feelings and experiences that cross cultures and times.

When we want to change things, we traditionally  develop goals, objectives, strategies and tactics as though we are totally in charge – usually forgetting that there are other forces and energies operating around us – in a  playful universe of galaxies.

Zander suggests we try to think of ourselves less as actors and doers and more as conduits that interact with the energies of others – especially in bringing about change. That story is called possibility and it mirrors natural evolution.  Humans act and talk. How we do both has a marked effect on the bigger picture. She observes

We reconcile by acts and words; we restore through how we relate and how we grow; we inspire through what we build and the art we make; and we cure ourselves by how we care for others and what we give away. In those ways we bring our hearts into a collective resonance – and that is where the power lies.

Nations have child stories that often need a re-write. As we work on our personal maturing,  we change our habits and find new insights and truths that become more like the patterns of nature.  Rather than either/or we learn to live with ambiguity.  We lessen our need to always be right or to avoid the realities staring at us.

Our caring for the earth needs a rewrite even more.  Evolution has always favored invasive species – yet humans are the most invasive of the lot.   Urban living divorces us from the natural world. Nature embraces all systems, Zander says, while we have primarily looked after ourselves.

She has several prescriptions –  get out and walk in nature, question the child stories that place man at the center as the hero. Stop treating nature as a thing to exploit and re-frame it as an evolving system constantly becoming more complex and beautiful.  Take the same stance toward human relationships. “What would be a more compassionate or collaborative way of doing things?  Through the practice of what art may I expand my heart?”, she asks.  It’s an invitation to join an infinite story.

She closes with what she terms infinite games:

  • Take an infinite leap and find someone who has been lost to you
  • Get the love you want
  • Make a decision in a different way that you normally do – change a habit
  • Choose a guiding principle – some examples are wonder, service, courage and authenticity – and commit to making every decision based on it for a day or two.

The entire book is an entertaining reminder that I am not the center of the universe – and at the same time, there are plenty of new possibilities ahead.

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Benjamin Zander, effectiveness, Reflection

More on Possibility

seedlingHow do we make change happen?  Pathways to Possibility, a book by Rosamund Stone Zander, a family systems therapist and the wife of noted orchestral conductor Ben Zander, has some important reminders.  Transformation, in her view, involves systems or fields rather than CEOs or heroes. But behavior matters.

She focuses on being rather than doing.  While we try to do the right thing, no one has the full picture. Einstein noted that “As our circle of knowledge expands, so does the circumference of darkness around it”.  How we act relates to our past experience. Zander describes us as walking stories.

We are affected by what happens to us as children and the strong positive or negative feelings these events evoke.  Both become internalized and part of how we cope.  We bring them into the relationships in our lives, Families and organizations of all sizes become a network of tangled pasts.  We sometimes compare organizations to families and use words like warmth, caring, loyalty and belonging.  But hidden in the family metaphor, says Zander, are control, hierarchy, competition, neglect, coercion and smothering.  Groups of any size may be a living collection of child stories.

As we mature, we may discover on our own that the stories are not valid or universal and no longer apply. Sometimes it takes therapy or life changing events to bring them to the surface.  Zander suggests two strategies to overcome the hurtful experiences – to recognize them as memories located in the past or look at them as stages in our personal development. We don’t have to be stuck in them and entrap others in the process.  We can tell our stories and move on.  She says:

We reconcile by facts and words, we restore through how we relate and how we grow; we inspire through what we build and the art we make; and we cure ourselves by how we care for others and what we give away. In these ways, we bring our hearts into collective resonance and that is where our power lies.

Having dealt with individuals, Zander moves on to larger groupings and the ways we try to change people.  Her list includes management, patience, do as I say, exclusion loving manipulation, bribery and ultimatums.  As a parent and grandparent, I’ve used all of them consciously, if not wisely. It might be less obvious how all of us use them to organizations – but we do.  At a recent meeting, I watched people offer suggestions of what we might do to fix people we thought were less effective in defined roles.  But we excluded ourselves from the picture.

Zander’s insight is no surprise.  If we wish to shift change in an organization, it has to start with ourselves. She calls the process walking into a new story.  It is our being – not our doing – that will make the difference.

Offering good advice is out.  What we need to look for in others is what she terms the infinite self – we know this possibility in ourselves and our task is to see it in someone else.  rather than just look through the lens of our own story.  The task is to see possibility. The result is more likely to be collaboration.

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effectiveness, Innovation, Technology

Disruption and Governance

Former Clerk of the Privy Council of the Government of Canada has written an interesting article published today in The Globe and Mail on the effect that the speed of technological change has on governance.  He focuses on government, but the changes and his recommendations have application to other enterprises of all sizes as well.

Technological Change Necessary Governance Responses
Speed up of pace of change Move from hindsight to foresight
Scope of change: vast and shifting Structures need flexibility
Disruptive change involves risk taking Become more innovative and tolerant of risk
Innovation crosses borders Crowd source public insights
Platform-based technologies with non-linear scalability and low marginal costs Think long term and anticipate the effects of the changes
Changes evolve through trial and error Look ahead to both benefits and costs to the wider society
Creation of virtual communities of interest with unfiltered commentary Use social media well;

When technologies disrupt and cause social problems, distrust of institutions follows.  Not only do we need to grow through innovation, Page says, but we must respond with new policies to meet the present and coming disruption.

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