Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Integrating Integrity

"I have been asked what I mean by “word of honor.” I will tell you. Place me behind prison walls—walls of stone ever so high, ever so thick, reaching ever so far into the ground—there is a possibility that in some way or another I might be able to escape; but stand me on the floor and draw a chalk line around me and have me give my word of honor never to cross it. Can I get out of that circle? No, never! I’d die first."
Karl G. Maeser

I've had to deal with issues of integrity my whole life, whether my own or that of others. On many occasions, I've had to make a decision between something I WANT or something a friend WANTS and doing what is RIGHT because they aren't always, and in today's world often are not, the same thing. As I get older, the line gets more blurry, less defined by those around me, and more and more I come across instances where righteous people I respect are crossing lines of integrity, believing that "just this once" won't hurt, or that it's "okay in this situation." It's scary how easily Satan gets in. All it takes is letting him in once, and the next time, it will be easier for him to convince you that there's nothing wrong with copying a friends homework just this once. And then, the next time, it will be something bigger. At school, in the work place, or just between friends, integrity is endangered, and rapidly becoming extinct or considered prehistoric.
So how can I, one person living in this frightening time, preserve my integrity? The first step is deciding that I will be honest in all things, no matter what, and I can start by improving the areas where I've put a toe over the line. It means drawing a straight "chalk line," and not making it curvy or wavy in order to include something that jeopardizes my integrity. If I'm honest with myself in setting my standards, I'll better be able to keep them.
The next step is the hardest--I have to live up to my standards, no matter the temptation that assails me. This is the worst when it's against friends, family, or superiors. Many of these people mean well enough, but they will try to convince me that I don't have to always follow my standards, that they are inefficient, foolish, limiting, or even destructive. They are wrong.
Even though this will always be a difficult thing to do, I have a strong testimony that if I do everything I can to keep my words and actions honorable, God will bless me. Sometimes it may not even seem like I'm receiving blessings and I'll feel punished for my good deeds, but I know He will always come through for me. He loves me and does not want me to suffer for being a good, honest person. He will always bless me for telling the truth and keeping my word. There's a quote somewhere that says a man is not measured by what he does in the presence of others, but what he does when he thinks no one is watching. Someone is always watching; and that someone is not a being I ever want to disappoint. His opinion means more to me than any worldly possession or position, more than the opinions of my friends, neighbors, strangers, family, superiors.

So, pass me the chalk, please. I'm ready to draw my line.

A Leader to Look up to

Today the focus is on those I like to refer to as abstract leaders, or life leaders; these are the people who are leaders, not because they literally led a group of people or an effort or anything like that, but because they lived with so much passion they were able to accomplish the great things they dreamed of doing. By achieving these great things, these people became leaders for generations to come, showing them what good could be put in the world. There are two women I want to highlight; women who aren't often mentioned and whose names I had never heard before reading about them tonight.

The first is Tenley Albright. She was born in 1935. By age eight she was already becoming a skilled ice skater, but was stricken with a severe case of polio at eleven. Despite the disease, it was a mere two years later that, through her dedication to training and therapy, Tenley won her first ice skating national title.
Tenley went on to become world champion five consecutive times and was the first U.S. woman to win gold at the Olympics.

The second is Dr. Mae Jemison. We all hear about Neil Armstrong, about Buzz Aldred, about fantastic American men who go into space. But Mae is an incredible person who deserves a minute or two in the spotlight. As for background, Mae was the youngest of three in her family, and she fought past roadblocks to woman and minorities all the years of her life so she could achieve her dreams.
Stanford University accepted her at age SIXTEEN, and she received a degree in Chemical Engineering and an associates in African and Afro-American studies. She got her Doctorate from Cornell Medical College in Medicine in 1981. She traveled to Cuba, Kenya, and Thailand for internships. She was invited to teach a course at Dartmouth in 1993, and an elementary school built in Detroit was named after her. She even appeared in an episode of Star Trek: The Next Generation.
So who was Dr. Mae Jemison? Why do I consider her among the greatest to ever walk the earth, leaders who overcame hardship and opened doors for those that would follow in their footsteps?
It is because, in September of 1992, aboard the spaceship Endeavor, she became the first African-American woman to go into space.

As I said before, these two women are examples of life leaders; of leaders who didn't let anything stop them, not others telling them they couldn't, not a crippling and life-threatening disease, not their gender, not their race, and certainly not circumstance. They have led the way along the treacherous path to achieving dreams, proving time and time again that any dragon can be defeated and that anyone who believes and does enough can have a happy ending.

Friday, March 26, 2010

My Leadership is Love

This week's topic is one that I am not sure I can find the words to aptly complete. Our TA suggested we right on our personal philosophy of leadership. Unsure of where to start, I turned to my beloved dictionary and flipped to the definition of philosophy. One entry called philosophy "the most basic beliefs, concepts, and attitudes of an individual."
So now I ask myself, what are MY basic beliefs, concepts, and attitudes of leadership?

LOVE. You cannot lead well without it. You can't do much of anything well without it, except be miserable and terrible. This is excluding, for a moment, the idea that without love none of those things would exist because there must be opposition to all things. Well, now that I look at it, it's not so much an absence of love that makes a leader a tyrant, but obvious rejection or ignoring of love is what turns good into evil.

Love is the root of everything good. The ultimate leader, Jesus Christ, he is love. His entire mortal life was spent distributing love to everyone and everything. The message of his gospel is love; love God, love yourself, love your neighbor.

We did an activity in the last ten minutes of my leadership group class this past Wednesday--an activity that made my day, and hopefully that of many others. Our class broke up, either into groups or individuals, and walked all over campus in different directions. Our goal? To spread joy. To make someone smile or just feel good about themselves and about life. Some of us had notes that said things like: "If this made you smile, pass it on!" or, "If you're missing a smile, you can have one of mine." or, "Have a great day!" My personal favorite was one I made that read, "Grin and WEAR it!" Others didn't take notes, but instead gave hugs, or smiled, or stopped and talked to someone who looked lonely. A lot of people gave us weird looks. All of the ones we gave notes to smiled. One woman turned around after taking the note we gave her and asked us what it was for. My partner said, "It's for you, to make you happy." She smiled and said thank you. It is the most wonderful thing in the world to make someone smile; the simplest of services, the kindest of actions, the cheapest way to make someone's day. And it filled me to overflowing with joy and warmth. It wasn't a huge service project. We didn't announce to the world that we were delivering these messages of happiness and love to get attention. We just devoted ten minutes of our time bringing joy to those around us.

It is still amazing to me how people can walk through this life and miss seeing how beautiful it is, how lucky they are, how blessed they are. It is amazing, and terrifying, to me how most people can walk through life and not see how beautiful and wonderful they are, and how much they can give to the world if they will only smile and put forth their best effort, doing something they're passionate about.

This week we also turned in a paper we wrote about a movie we watched that had an example of leadership in it. Because I love the movie and hadn't seen it for a while, I checked "Dead Poets' Society" out of the library and went home and watched it. I cried. I always do when I watch that movie. But I don't cry at the saddest part, the part about a death (I'll try to avoid spoiling the movie entirely!) I never fail, however, to shed tears when it gets to the end and everything comes together in a huge dramatic scene with triumphant, inspirational music and people standing up (literally) for something they believe in and respect and love. It's also at this point that the message of the movie, at least the one I believe it contains, slams home.

The message is that the most valuable contribution you can make to the world is sharing your passion for life with everyone around you. Whatever it is that makes you most happy, that you love the most, share it with others every moment of every day. Put forth every bit of positive energy your being contains

My theory is that if I have love, if I recognize it in my life and use it, I have a responsibility to show my fellow man that same love. I have a responsibility to not only love him, but show him how I found that love. This is how leadership is based on love. This is what I believe the best leadership is made of.

Friday, March 12, 2010

The Worth of a Book

"The worth of a book is to be measured by what you can carry away from it."
~James Bryce
Ah, literature. Books are my best friends when I'm having issues with people. Books keep me company when I am sad or lonely, books give me adventure when my life is dull, books enlighten dark regions of knowledge and open doors to worlds of information and stories. I love books. (And that's putting it lightly!)

I could go on all day about the value of reading and never tire of the subject or run out of words, but since readers of my blog would probably appreciate not being here for that long, I will restrict my comments. We each read a book in my leadership class about, go figure, leadership. They all had some notable similarities, but stark differences. One was called "Me to We" and it must have been GOOD because both of the students that read it gave it a thumbs up. It was all about developing a team-based attitude and not maintaining a selfish persona. Another of my classmates read two books (because she didn't like the first one very much), both of which I have had the pleasure of reading. The first was called "Don't Sweat the Small Stuff." She referred to it as a "calender book," one of those where you read a small section every day to get a completely different idea individual from all the others. It's a great read, but not a good straight-through read, as she emphasized. The other book she read is one of my personal favorites, "Tuesdays with Morrie."

To quote my classmate, "This book changed my life."

It's true. I read this and cried, it was so poignant. It's a story about a dying man, but it's more than that. This man truly knew how to live. And the author, Mitch Albom, was a lucky individual in that he was able to be with Morrie in the last months of his life, recording thoughts and conversations that he had with the old man. It's a beautiful book about acceptance, about living, about dying. I loved it, and I could tell my classmate did as well.
The book I read, "Leading Without Power" by Max De Pree, came recommended by my wonderful father. It took me a while to get into it; I wasn't able to truly enjoy his writing until I discovered a way to apply it to myself. I found his terminology strange, which also made it difficult to get through. But overall, it was a great book.

The audience is those participating in organizations, either for-profit or non-profit, and De Pree is trying to express the importance of applying the values and attitudes found in a successful non-profit organization to those in for-profit organizations. Until I saw past all of the "organizations" and put my name in its place, I wasn't able to get much out of the book. But then my eyes opened, and phrases began to stick out, and I got a valuable message from its words.

POTENTIAL. That is what this book focused on for me. Discovering and fulfilling potential, and in turn helping others' find and develop their potential.

"Like rainbows, which are really circles--we only see the upper halves, the horizonhides the rest--potential never reveals its entirety."
This is one of my favorite quotes from the book. It was hidden in the beginning, and I missed it when I first read through this part because I was struggling to wade my way through what seemed to me to be useless and confusing words of advice. But it is mentioned in the beginning, and again towards the end, and in the middle I found a true gem. De Pree talks about how to make your organization "a place of realized potential." When I ask myself, "Am I a place of realized potential?" Some interesting introspective observations were able to form, and I was taught more about myself than I could have learned otherwise. This all came from De Pree's comments on what a place of realized potential does.

"A place of realized potential opens itself to change, to contrary opinion, to the mystery of potential, to involvement, to unsettling ideas."

"A place of realized potential offers people the opportunity to learn and grow."

"A place of realized potential offers the gift of challenging work."

"A place of realized potential encourages people to decide what needs to be measure and then helps them do the work."

"A place of realized potential heals people with trust and with caring and with forgetfulness."

"A place of realized potential celebrates."

That last one may not seem to fit, but allow me to elaborate since it is my favorite one. De Pree says that a place that celebrates understands that the best way to reward outstanding performance is to raise the level of challenge. I really like that. We are all striving for completion, or perfection, on this earth. That is an eternal quest, obtaining the highest degree of our potential. It is not something done easily, nor is it something that can be achieved alone. And love, hope, service--these are all necessary to reaching that place of "realized potential."

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

"Blessed are the Peacemakers..."

This week's topic is conflict resolution. Every leader needs to know how to handle conflict because no matter what he or she leads, there will be conflict. It's everywhere, and it's necessary. That's right! Not all conflict is bad. In fact, there is much GOOD in conflict. It can encourage (sometimes force) communication between people of different backgrounds or beliefs and reveal weaknesses in plans or ideas. It's like building a muscle--in order to become stronger, things have to be torn and built back up. Constructive conflict is hard to come by, however; our natural instinct is to protect ourselves and our ideas, lashing out or running away rather than being patient and calm and trying to figure things out. Constructive conflict begins within ourselves, NOT with the other person!

As a kid, I would get into a lot of conflict with my siblings. We were atrocious when it came to disagreements, and they would get very vocal. I can remember how frustrated my mom used to get when we fought, especially when it was over pointless or frivolous things, like who got the front seat in the car, or when someone's favorite spot on the couch was stolen.
The one thing I remember most from this week's presentation was

"The Peacemaking Pyramid"

The point our speaker made was that we generally invert the pyramid so Correcting is where we spend most of our time, rather than Heart of Peace. Heart of peace is based on behavior--we are supposed to cultivate a heart of peace within ourselves, rather than a heart of war. We can do this by treating people as actual people, rather than objects or tools for our gain.

A great example of this (inspired by my brilliant and wonderful T.A.'s examples in class) is found in the movie "The Emperor's New Groove," a Disney movie I recently watched. In this movie, the emperor is a spoiled 18-year-old who is a jerk, to put it lightly. He only cares about himself, about his happiness, and this is a major problem to everyone but him. Well, one day he gets turned into a llama and kidnapped by a woman he had insulted immensely. Then he meets a man named Pacha, a llama herder, and demands that this peasant take him back to his palace. Well, since the emperor (named Kuzco) recently told Pacha he was destroying his village to build a summer getaway for himself, Pacha refuses to comply with Kuzco's demands. They are forced together when Pacha gives in to his conscience and rescues Kuzco from a vicious pack of panthers, and through their many adventures together, they form a strong bond of everlasting friendship and eventually, Kuzco becomes human again, decides not to destroy Pacha's village, and all ends happily.

However, the point is that in the beginning, Emperor Kuzco saw people as tools to create his happiness; he was always criticizing and being utterly selfish. By the end however, he learned to see others as real people with needs and hopes and dreams, and he begins to be more considerate of their views and feelings.

Returning to the pyramid, it is important that we focus on the lower values, the base values, before the higher ones. If we are always correcting others and never fixing our own problems, we are being hypocrites and no one will follow our lead. If there is a problem at one level, it is the level(s) below it that need to be worked on. And our overall effectiveness depends on how we operate on the most basic and most essential level: that of our way of being, or how we treat other people.

No matter what capacity I serve in through my life, I must always first address any flaws that might be within myself or in my perception of the people I serve. One thing I particularly liked in the leadership book I'm reading is a quote. It basically says that leaders are always talking about "my people," when in reality it should be "the people I serve." This similar but crucially different perspective is what makes a good leader. Instead of seeing these people as objects to own, it is important to see them as receivers of service with individual, human value. When we reach this point is when people will want to follow us, and we become successful leaders.