Silence over a Year

It’s been one year and sixteen days since I last wrote a blog. An eternity in the world of the internet. And a way to make oneself irrelevant in that same media. But it’s been one of those kinds of years in my life. During these 381 days, I’ve come to understand a number of things important to my well-being.  Maybe they will strike a cord with you, too.

The World Now has too many words:

I’ve been exhausted by the amount of words and media coming at me every day. Some of this is because I am an introvert and prefer more quiet moments, but in reality I get hundreds of emails a week in my workplace, notices on Facebook, and thousands of 140 character blurbs scroll past my Twitter feed in the same time frame. Everyone wants something of me and I have only a finite amount of time to read, respond and give to these requests. So I have been quiet in adding my own words to the mix.  One more voice in a expanding universe of words that is growing, as Buzz Light Year heralds, “to infinity and beyond.”

Learning to Focus in the Universe of Words:

While the amount of words is overwhelming to me, I’ve learned another lesson. Focus on the words and the ones sharing them that make the most sense to you and to the value they add to life and well-being. I follow less than 100 people on Twitter. I know you are supposed to follow many in exchange for those following you, but in the sea of words that are essential for me to know and understand, I don’t need to see someone’s food, hear of their latest breakup, or read political banter and prejudices that don’t really add to public debate or resolution of the world’s ills. I am looking for thoughts and suggestions that add meaning to life. So I follow the few I’ve found that add quality.  And I tweet or pass along this information only if it will be of value to another. I also discriminate Facebook friendship requests. I have over 200 requests sitting in my inbox. My method of screening is “If I wouldn’t sit and have an extended coffee break in conversation, I probably would not “friend” you.  I know we may have many people in common, but I value time together….not more words about things without meaningful conversation.  In Facebook, I even created a category called “Who I want to See.” I’ve gone through my entire FB friend list and checked those I want in this category.  I now go to it regularly as the place to start.  I may get to the trending or most recent, but those I want to see get priority.

Focus on Family and Relationships:

Over the past four years of my life, my mother and my in-laws have died. It is that age in life (now I’m 60) when all rapidly changes.  I’ve decided that focusing on family has the greatest rewards and benefits. I know focus on my children, grandchildren, siblings, and my dad….who is the last. I love him and want to spend quality time with him. I’ve learned it all changes in a telephone call. I want to live my life with no regrets when asked to give a eulogy. No relationship regrets….say it all when the time is right and live it all when the moments are present. My dad, who is in his 80s, reminds me that every day is a gift…no guarantees. I am applying this wisdom to every relationship I have right now.  No waiting.

Attending to the work that matters:

As I said, I’m 60. I may have six to eight active working years remaining. I want to give value to these years. Thus I am focusing in my work on what matters to future generations. I have the privilege of working in higher education. My current focus is on reducing student debt through a major grant. I know that a student going to college will earn in a lifetime at least 50% more than those who do not. But that comes with a price they should also not have to bear. My work is now focused on helping them graduate with little to no debt. That is a major gift. Also, I am focusing on those things that will give me joy in my retirement years. Peter Drucker counseled to create your second career while in your first. I am focusing now more on research, writing, and those hobbies that I’ve had on the side for a few years. I am also attending to my financial matters of retirement. My wife and I know the realities of a less than well financed retirement as we have witnessed it in others we know and in family members. It is heartbreaking to watch…make this a priority of life from age twenty…it does matter.

Health:

What can I say…health matters. If you are not healthy all the rest is irrelevant. I’ve watched vibrant, active people reduced to a bed in semi conscious states and pain over this past year. When your health goes, all the rest is totally irrelevant.  Period.

I trust 2015 will be a great year for those who read this blog. I hope in it there is wisdom for yourself and others. I plan on continuing action on what I’ve learned in the last 381 days. May you also find what matters and stick to it. Grace and peace to you in this opening day of 2015.

Applauding the Pope: Some Leadership Lessons

Some leadership lessons emerged, at least for me, from the Pope’s announcement he was resigning from this high and sacred office. This is a lifetime office, as we know from its history, but Pope Benedict XVI’s took the route that was last taken 600 years ago (actually 598) by Gregory XII in 1415. While I do not know all the details of Benedict’s resignation (and we probably can never know all the details), I believe there are some leadership lessons embedded in this decision.

The Pope says he is resigning for health reasons and fatigue: This is a lesson for all of us. We should pay attention to our bodies and know when it is time to leave our current assignments. When our energy begins to fail, as the Pope noted, then we are not able to give our best thinking and abilities to the assignment at hand. All humans wind down. Sensing and acknowledging that our time is coming to an end is a high degree of emotional intelligence. Those who remain robust and vibrant into their 90s who we celebrate and tout in the media are not the norm. And if you don’t believe that is the case, you haven’t visited a nursing home in awhile.

The wisdom of knowing it is time to resign: I’ve witnessed it and so have others when a person hangs on to a leadership role when they really should step aside. Pope Benedict XVI is demonstrating wisdom in knowing he can no longer oversee the duties of the office. How many times have we watched a leader hang on to the office without forethought of its demands? There is wisdom in this act by knowing when one is no longer able to function adequately in the role assigned to them in a more youthful moment.

The third session for me has to do with the courage: It’s been 598 years since the last Pope resigned. That’s a long tenure of tradition. And the length of tradition can cause us to make unwise decisions….to preserve the office and not the institution. The Pope understands he is not the person to lead the 1 billion member Catholic church forward, so is courageous enough (and humble enough) to know that the time is right for him to step down.

Finally, the last leadership lesson is one of deep concern for the institution: It is easy to place one’s role as a leader above the mission and future of the organization. An effective leader understands when they are no longer able to guide the institution forward in dealing with issues and complexities of the assignment. Often, we know of those who stay well after their time is ended technically, but continue to push on as if nothing is wrong. We call them lame duck…holding a position but ineffectual in doing anything productive. The phrase “lame duck” has its origins, however, from the London stock exchange of 1771 where a person who is “lame duck” cannot pay their debt. In a sense, the Pope and leaders who stay past their ability to perform the assignment are no longer able to pay the debt for the demands of the job. There is wisdom and courage that reminds a person when it is best to leave for the sake of the institution than to become a debtor where staying diminishes the legacy and hamstrings the ability of the organization to function effectively (hamstring which by the way means” to render useless”).

I admire Pope Benedict XVI as a leader in this final act. He has demonstrated for us what must go into every leadership decision when the transfer of power comes. A leader does not have to be 85 to make that decision. It may happen when they are 65, 70, or 55. Many signs will start to appear for a leader and I believe the emotionally intelligent will make the right decision even though it does not seem the best from those looking in from the outside.

Blessings to you Pope Benedict XVI and all those wise leaders who follow your example.

It Became Clear from the Balcony

It happened from the balcony, in a way similar to Ron Heifetz’ image from “Leadership without Easy Answers.” My spot in the balcony allowed me to see the whole sanctuary as people came in response to the pastor’s preaching—sure, but more to the response of something inside, beckoning them to step out, move down the aisle to the front of the sanctuary to accept a call by God to begin a new life.

Sitting in the balcony allowed me to view the whole scene in a way I could not from the floor—the proverbial forest for the trees. What flashed in my mind that morning was a question: “Why?” “Why are people responding?” Hundreds sat still while about five took the 100 foot walk. Why did they publicly move?

The response to my own internal question that burst in my head was “it’s the invitation.”

Being invited. We’ve all been invited to something at some juncture of our lives. Birthday parties, weddings, anniversary celebrations, bar mitzvah, or so many other celebrations that come during a life time. And for some reason, we responded to them. I’m always struck with words and their origins. And the word invitation is one.

The etymology of invitation comes from the Latin invitatio, which probably meant “be pleasant toward.” It may also come from a more ancient root word meaning “to go after something, pursue with vigor.” These roots in time morphed (as all language does) into the word from the Middle French inviter. The word invite thus came to mean “to ask politely or graciously to be present…to perform an action; a courteous solicitation.” There are synonyms to the word also like attract, allure, incitement, and attraction. All of these meanings are what I experienced that morning. People graciously asked to make a decision…to perform an action. It was on that day I changed the wording of my personal mission statement to include the verbal form inviting.

From the balcony, I had come to realize that I was inviting people to something when I lived out my mission statement. My mission at the time was “inviting people to abundant life by choosing God’s best.” I realized in all the years I had been working with people, I as inviting them to something. I never forced them, chided them, coerced them…I simply graciously invited them to make a choice about their lives. I was inviting them to choose abundant life and living well. That is always a personal choice. It is something that has to spark the heart. No matter what I said or did, it always came down to response freely chosen by a person.

So that is what I have done these many years, invited people to examine their lives and make decisions about how they want to live their time on this planet. And I have become aware, just like that Sunday morning, that hundreds who hear the invitation will sit quietly, while a handful will make a choice to do something different in and with their lives.

The experience from the balcony was actually freeing as the word became captured for me in that moment. In that split second, I realized I had no initial responsibility other than to share an invitation. The courage of the person and their self examination was the factor in determining that they would choose to do something different with life. They alone would have to make a deeply personal choice to walk those “100 feet” to something better. I would have responsibility to assist them in the time after their decisions, but that’s for another blog (or two or three—stay tuned).

Blessings to you for this day as you consider and hopefully accept the invitation to live well that these blogs have announced over a few years. Grace and peace to you for the days to come.