Leadership Library Review: Khizr Khan interview on “Face the Nation” regarding his book, An American Family: A Memoir of Hope and Sacrifice

November 2017

Khizr Khan interview on “Face the Nation” regarding his book, An American Family: A Memoir of Hope and Sacrifice (Random House, 2017)

What are the big take-aways?

In honor of Veterans Day this month, and in awe of Khizr Khan’s extraordinary dedication – as a Gold Star parent – to transcending the cultural divisions the U.S. is currently grappling with, I want to lift up Khan’s leadership and his fascinating book.  For me, the big take-away from his October 22nd interview with John Dickerson on “Face the Nation” was Khan’s startling reverence and gratitude for our nation’s founding documents.  His message is a wake-up call to all U.S citizens to get back to basics.  (When was the last time you read the Constitution, beginning to end?)

Why do I like it?

What I strongly responded to in the “Face the Nation” interview was the poignancy of Khan’s story of his journey to American citizenship as a Muslim immigrant from Pakistan, how he and his wife Ghazala raised three boys in Maryland, and the family’s experience of losing the eldest son – a captain in the U.S. Army – who was killed in Iraq in 2004, trying to stop a suicide bombing.

Khan’s life narrative starkly highlights the true meaning of military service from his perspective: to protect the principles behind the Declaration of Independence and the U.S. Constitution.  I like that Khan – an attorney who put himself through the Harvard Law School LL.M. program – rises above and beyond political party affiliations to lend an inspiring and reaffirming voice to these wobbly times in our democracy.

From the interview transcript:

JOHN DICKERSON: Let me – describe for a moment the Declaration of Independence, where you first read it. And that, you talked about Jefferson, so we’ll bring his work on the table here. What was that like the first time you read it?

KHIZR KHAN: I was 22 years old in Pakistan, had taken a course in Comparative Study of Constitutions of the World. Among the materials, the very first page was the Declaration of Independence. I looked at it. We come from in Asian countries then from colonized part of the world. Amazing, amazing document I read.

Is there a nation on Earth that declares its independence? Independence is given. Independence is attained. Independence is politically argued and received. Is there a nation? So that love affair started in 1972. And I am still in awe. Those 1,338 words of the Declaration of Independence, I implore all Americans to read it, how we founded this blessed nation.

JOHN DICKERSON: Finally, you have stepped into the political arena at the Democratic Convention. What has it been like since then?

KHIZR KHAN: It has been journey of hope, bridge building, interfaith dialogue, standing with those who truly care for the values of this country. We will prevail. I have seen the hope and aspiration in the eyes and in the hearts and in the minds of the people that I have dealt with throughout this nation. We are blessed to have all this.

I remembered the moment, and we explain that in the book in much more detail, when I became citizen of United States. I wish every American reads the Oath of Citizenship that I took. I had nothing when I went in human dignity terms, nothing when I went to take that oath. I came out blessed with all dignities that a human being aspires to have. It’s that story that we write in the book.

In what situations would this be useful?

I’m in the midst of reading that book, An American Family, which is beautifully written in lovely, intimate and candid language.

Khizr Khan’s family odyssey would be useful in a variety of situations involving formal and informal leadership, including as a compelling example of being the “leader of your own life.”  It’s a narrative about persistence, self-respect, love, risk-taking, compassion, creating and seizing opportunities, taking a stand for your values, and grieving honestly.  One of the most illuminating aspects of leadership that Khan articulates is the role of gratitude in maintaining resilience while living with perhaps the most devastating of losses: the death of a child.  This is not unrelated to the leadership wisdom of his beloved son, Captain Humayun Khan, who once offered this sophisticated observation about a fundamental paradox of leadership at an ROTC ceremony (p. 200):

I’ve found success not a harbor, but a voyage, with its own perils of the spirit.  The game of life is to achieve that which you set out to do.  There is always danger of failing.  The lesson that most of us on this voyage never learn, but never quite forget, is that to win is sometimes to lose.  Don’t lose sight of your humanness.

What other resources might “pair” well with it?

It may seem like an odd pairing, but the first book that leaps to my mind is Margaret Wheatley’s Who Do We Choose To Be, previously reviewed in the Leadership Library.  In it, she explores what it means to be a Warrior for the Human Spirit, and summons us “to be leaders for this time as things fall apart, to reclaim leadership as a noble profession that creates possibility and humanness in the midst of increasing fear and turmoil” (p. 8).  Her message is delivered very differently from Khizr Khan’s, but in my view they resonate with each other in surprising and provocative ways.

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Leadership Library Review: The Coaching Habit: Say Less, Ask More & Change the Way You Lead

October 2017

The Coaching Habit: Say Less, Ask More & Change the Way You Lead Forever
by Michael Bungay Stanier (Box of Crayons Press, 2017)

What are the big take-aways?

With robust humor, sneaky homages to A.A. Milne, and lots of pithy quotations from a multi-disciplinary array of wits, Michael Bungay Stanier makes one of the strongest (and most practical) arguments I’ve ever heard for why “You Need a Coaching Habit” in your workplace. As the blurb says, “This book gives you seven questions and the tools to make them an everyday way to work less hard and have more impact.”

What’s the biggest take-away? The author writes on page 59, “If this were a haiku rather than a book, it would read:

Tell less and ask more.
Your advice is not as good
As you think it is.”

Why do I like it?

The Coaching Habit is funny, astute, quick-to-read and – in my professional coach’s opinion – focuses on the right things. In my view, effective coaching by a leader in the workplace is direct, deeply curious, and doesn’t try to take over someone else’s problem by relating to it or prejudging it or imparting wisdom about how to fix it. This is hard to do! It can require breaking habits that are deeply-ingrained, persistent, and seem to actually work really well (in the short-term).

I especially appreciate the coaching habit discussed in Chapter Two, “The AWE Question.” In fact, it’s a question that I use in various forms at some point in almost every coaching session: “And what else?” (A.W.E.) I notice that if I repeat it a few times, I can reach the borders of my client’s creativity – and occasionally beyond that, to his growth edges – until he inspires himself by giving voice to fantastic ideas he had been suppressing out of a fear they would sound scary, unrealistic, or nuts. Often, these ideas are the seeds of real breakthroughs. Equally importantly, if not more so, they are inevitably ideas I never would have thought of, myself.

In what situations would this be useful?

Maybe you’re a leader who thinks that coaching is not her style. Well then, this is the book for you! I recommend The Coaching Habit to any leader, because its strategies can swiftly make you happier and more effective than ever in your role; and even if you read the book and choose not to adopt new habits, then at least you are making a conscious decision rather than sleepwalking in reliance on all the default behaviors that you have – understandably – accumulated over the years.

What other resources might “pair” well with it?

A couple of my other favorite coaching books for leaders include Change Your Questions, Change Your Life by Marilee Adams (previously reviewed here in the Leadership Library) and Coaching for Performance by John Whitmore (4th ed., Nicholas Brealey, 2011). I successfully used Whitmore’s GROW (i.e., Goals, Reality, Options, Will) model when it was chosen by my client as the basis for an in-house coaching program I helped to pilot at a large international nonprofit.

Another great book about how to change certains habits, beyond the workplace context, is Carol Dweck’s Mindset: The New Psychology of Success (Ballantine, 2008); you can preview it in this excellent blog post at Maria Popova’s “Brain Pickings” website.

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Leadership Library Review: The Smithsonian’s National Museum of African American History and Culture

September 2017

The Smithsonian’s National Museum of African American History and Culture (Curator: Lonnie Bunch)

What are the big take-aways?

One year ago, the newest Smithsonian museum opened on a corner of the Mall, close to the Washington Monument.  I was able to visit it for a few hours when I was in D.C. for business last November, having reserved the required (free) timed ticket many weeks in advance.

The National Museum of African American History and Culture is a triumph of continuous leadership through many generations.  After almost a hundred years of fits and starts – which are all fascinating in and of themselves as a timeline of African-American progress through the 20th century, but too many to recount here – in 2003 the museum was finally approved by an act of Congress signed into law by president George W. Bush.  The slogan for the N.M.A.A.H.C. is “A People’s Journey – A Nation’s Story.”  Consistent with the museum’s intent, my main take-away was that it offers a comprehensive history of the whole United States via the authentic African-American experience.  It is painful, uplifting, poignant, beautiful, brutal and awesome.

Why do I like it?

I liked the museum’s refreshing and disorienting perspective on its own subject; the displays are emotional, artful and stimulating, but they don’t tell you exactly what to think or feel, or how to interpret what you’re seeing.  You must make your own meaning from them, or not, as you choose.  The museum’s curator, an extraordinary leader named Lonnie Bunch, was interviewed about this last year by Vinson Cunningham for The New Yorker.  Cunningham writes:

Bunch’s framing of black experience, as a lens through which one may better see some static American text, sidesteps more than a century of scuffles over the nature, and the meaning, of that experience. Between the accommodationism of Booker T. Washington and the activism of W. E. B. Du Bois, the romance of Zora Neale Hurston and the social realism of Richard Wright, the defiance of the Black Lives Matter movement and the caution of “respectability politics,” there has always been something along these lines: go along or fight back, persuade or condemn, love or leave, use a common language or create one of your own…..Bunch may be a fighter, but he seems eager to avoid such a clash—the cost, perhaps, of doing business with Congress, on whom so much concerning the museum depends…Bunch told me about a meeting he had with Jim Moran, a former U.S. congressman from Virginia, who initially opposed the museum: “He says, ‘O.K., Lonnie, I don’t wanna be rude, but I don’t think there should be a black museum just for black people.’ And I said, ‘Neither do I.’ Blew him out of the water.”

Whatever the motivation behind Bunch’s inspired choice not to offer an over-arching interpretive stance, the museum he created from a black “Antiques Roadshow” of artifact donations is truly an American history museum for everyone.  (Many of the most stunning artifacts and their contributors are beautifully photographed in this interactive New York Times article).

As an aside, I will also mention that I loved the museum’s excellent restaurant, Sweet Home Café, which features menus from four different traditional African-American cuisines.

In what situations would this be useful?

I will speak for myself, and say that the museum vastly expanded my perspectives on my whiteness, on the North American continent’s centuries-old discomfort with its tortuously conflicted narratives, and on the continuing challenges the United States faces to define democracy, citizenship, fairness and belonging.

Ultimately, my experience of the N.M.A.A.H.C. fortified feelings of hope for our culturally divided nation.  As a visitor, you start in the cramped and dark underground-level exhibits of the “middle passage” era – echoing the belly of a slave ship – and then, slowly, you literally elevate level-by-level through the chronology of agonizingly incremental gains in civil rights, and wind up on top of the building surrounded by breath-taking art and objects from a dizzying array of contemporary cultural icons.  In short, the museum helped me realize that the 400-plus-years-long struggle of African-Americans for human and civil rights serves as a powerful long-view map of not only where we’ve all come from, but also of possible pathways forward for our country.

What other resources might “pair” well with it?

The museum building is an architectural wonder; for an enlightening interview with the lead architect, see this piece from the New York Times.

For some historical context on last month’s events in Charlottesville offered by N.M.A.A.H.C. curator Lonnie Bunch, click here.  Another important but under-told story about leadership in the wake of Charlottesville is that of Christian Picciolini (and many others like him) who – as a former skinhead and violent white supremacist, himself – is dedicated to helping extremists who want to leave hate groups and make positive life changes.  One such organization, co-founded by Picciolini, is Life After Hate.

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Leadership Library Review: Who Do We Choose To Be? Facing Reality, Claiming Leadership, Restoring Sanity

August 2017

Who Do We Choose To Be? Facing Reality, Claiming Leadership, Restoring Sanity by Margaret J. Wheatley (Berrett-Koehler, 2017)

What are the big take-aways?

Teacher, consultant and leader Margaret Wheatley – the best-selling author of Leadership and the New Science – takes another whack at how to live and lead honorably in a troubling world in Who Do We Choose to Be?

Following up on her valiant call-to-action in So Far From Home five years ago (previously reviewed here in the Leadership Library), which she then referred to as an “invitation to warriorship,” in Who Do We Choose To Be Wheatley updates and further defines what it means to be a Warrior for the Human Spirit in 2017.  She says this new book “is born of my desire to summon us to be leaders for this time as things fall apart, to reclaim leadership as a noble profession that creates possibility and humanness in the midst of increasing fear and turmoil” (p. 8).  Elaborating, Wheatley asserts on the same page:

I know it is possible for leaders to use their power and influence, their insight and compassion, to lead people back to an understanding of who we are as human beings, to create the conditions for our basic human qualities of generosity, contribution, community, and love to be evoked no matter what.  I know it is possible to experience grace and joy in the midst of tragedy and loss.  I know it is possible to create islands of sanity in the midst of wildly disruptive seas.  I know it is possible because I have worked with leaders over many years in places that knew chaos and breakdown long before this moment.  And I have studied enough history to know that such leaders always arise when they are most needed.

              Now it’s our turn.

Why do I like it?

Who Do We Choose To Be is a riveting romp through Wheatley’s unique ability to gracefully connect diverse observations from science (especially physics and biology), organizational development (from the Leadership Conference of Women Religious, to the U.S. military, and beyond), various spiritual traditions (Native American, Buddhist, Christian and others) and theories of technology, civilization and collapse, in order to bolster her positions.  I don’t agree with everything Wheatley argues in this book, but as a leadership coach and consultant I think Who Do We Choose to Be is a masterpiece of the manifesto genre.

What marks this particular volume as distinctly more resonant with me, personally, than Wheatley’s previous work is that it holds itself – as well as its ideas – much more lightly.  (E.g., early on, Wheatley quotes paleoanthropologist Andre Leroi-Gourhan: “I should like to think that prehistoric man’s first invention, the first condition for his survival, was a sense of humor.”)  Indeed on page 266, one of Wheatley’s bullet points in the elevating principles behind her conclusory roster, “The Faith and Confidence of Warriors,” is that “[w]e encounter life’s challenges with a sense of humor, knowing that lightness and play increase our capacity to deal with suffering.”  So true, albeit difficult!  (And if you wonder what this lightness-amidst-suffering looks like in real human leadership terms, Wheatley refers to the exiled Dalai Lama of Tibet and Archbishop Desmond Tutu of South Africa as two living examples.)  Also, see her lovely segment on joy (pp. 234-36).

In what situations would this be useful?

If you’re a leader perplexed by the state of affairs in Western civilization and the globe, and you find multi-disciplinary approaches and systems theory appealing, Who Do You Choose To Be could give your spirit the intellectual boost it needs to commit to a new way of being that is, itself, a form of action.  If the following statement speaks to you (p. 256), then the whole book likely will: “Throughout time, warriors arise when the people need protection.”

The final two chapters deeply define exactly what Wheatley means by a Warrior for the Human Spirit, and why you – reader – already are one or can become one if you so choose.  (She doesn’t mention BLM, but in my opinion, probably the largest organized group currently in the U.S. who most closely embodies and engages in the kind of widespread gentle warriorship Wheatley describes is Black Lives Matter.)  Wheatley offers a number of inspiring nudges toward confidence, compassion, hope, taking a stand, etc., as well as solid coaching questions (a favorite: What do you want to be remembered for?), to remind you that you already know what to do and how to do it.  Your choice now is whether to draw upon your courage to be a Warrior for the Human Spirit.

What other resources might “pair” well with it?

A complement to this book which leaps to my mind is journalist Krista Tippett’s nourishing Becoming Wise: An Inquiry into the Mystery and Art of Living (Penguin, 2016), which I loved as a similarly affirming and differently wide-ranging contemplation on the state of humanity.

Also, because leading with emergence has explicitly shown up in some of my other conversations lately, and Wheatley points to it in her chapter on “Interconnectedness,” I suggest that anyone intrigued by this concept check out Joseph Jaworksi’s Source: The Inner Path of Knowledge Creation (previously reviewed here in the Leadership Library).

 

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Leadership Library Review: A More Beautiful Question: The Power of Inquiry to Spark Breakthrough Ideas

July 2017

A More Beautiful Question: The Power of Inquiry to Spark Breakthrough Ideas
by Warren Berger (Bloomsbury, 2014)

What are the big take-aways?

A More Beautiful Question is a thorough and enlivening “inquiry into inquiry.” The book insightfully explores how our Western culture relates to questions (and question-askers), and how it could use the inspiring power of well-crafted questions to even more greatly benefit our businesses and our lives. I share the author’s assessment that our culture is overly focused on answers and does not pay nearly enough attention to the transcendent value of questions. The heart of Berger’s incisive book is probably Chapter Three, “The Why, What If, and How of Innovative Questioning,” which provides pragmatic guidance for discovering, (re)framing and experimenting with the kinds powerful questions that create transformative results.

Why do I like it?

I’m biased about the astounding potency of good questions, so I like this book. As a leadership coach, the tools of my trade are open and curious questions that are designed to leverage the strengths and talents of my clients as they work to enhance their leadership effectiveness – through both their triumphs and their growth edges. For my information and my clients’ I am especially drawn to the chapter on “Questioning In Business” (e.g., Will anyone follow a leader who embraces uncertainty? Should mission statements be mission questions?) and to the chapter on “Questioning for Life.” The latter addresses topics which are critical for agile leaders:

  • Why should we live the questions?
  • Why are you climbing the mountain?
  • Why are you evading inquiry?
  • Before we “lean in,” what if we stepped back?
  • What if we start with what we already have?
  • What if you made one small change?
  • What if you could not fail?
  • How might we pry off the lid and stir the paint?
  • How will you find your beautiful question?

I like that A More Beautiful Question promotes strengths-based approaches to business purpose and life purpose; and to the extent those purposes are connected, parts of the book – in my opinion – offer superb career-coaching questions.

In what situations would this be useful?

I recommend this book as a modern classic in leadership literature, applicable to any leader or organization. That said, it strikes me that it might be a particularly positive and refreshing “lifeline” to an organization or leader who feels intractably stuck. Inquiry – especially the subgenre of appreciative inquiry – is Goo Gone for managerial stuckness! And while many of us have a natural tendency to reflexively avoid some types of questions when situations seem ambiguous, unclear and confusing, this is when inquiry can serve us best. As Berger writes (page 186):

If you fear not having answers to questions you might ask yourself, remember that one of the hallmarks of innovative problem solvers is that they are willing to raise questions without having any idea of what the answer might be. Part of being able to tackle complex and difficult questions is accepting that there is nothing wrong with not knowing.

The notion that “there is nothing wrong with not knowing” is a counter-cultural, counter-intuitive, and – in some contexts – subversive idea, indeed! I will also note here that, by the same token, asking questions without knowing the answers is a central characteristic of effective coaching.

What other resources might “pair” well with it?

If, like me, you often consider leadership growth through the lens of adult development theory, an excellent pairing with this book might be Jennifer Garvey Berger’s Simple Habits for Complex Times: Powerful Practices for Leaders (previously reviewed here in the Leadership Library). For more about leadership and appreciative inquiry theory, I highly recommend Appreciative Leadership by Diana Whitney, et al. (previously reviewed here in the Leadership Library).

I haven’t read it yet, but if you’re a leader interested in adopting or adding coaching skills to your toolbox, Michael Bungay Stanier’s new book, The Coaching Habit: Say Less, Ask More & Change the Way You Lead Forever, comes highly recommended by some of my esteemed colleagues from the Georgetown Leadership Coaching Program.

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Leadership Library Review: 2017 Harvard Law School Commencement Address by Sally Yates

June 2017

2017 Harvard Law School Commencement Address
by Sally Yates

What are the big take-aways?

Sally Yates was fired as acting Attorney General of the United States on Monday, January 30, 2017, three days after the Trump administration issued its first travel ban against immigrants and refugees from seven predominantly-Muslim countries. Yates told her story, and the lessons she drew from it, in a speech to Harvard Law School graduates last week. You can view her remarks in their entirety on YouTube.

The late-Friday announcement of the administration’s executive order had come as a complete surprise to Yates on the preceding Friday afternoon. Yates – who devoted 27 years of her career as a government lawyer in the Department of Justice (DOJ) – quickly studied the situation and became unconvinced that the travel ban was legal, truly issued for its stated purpose, or consistent with the mission of the DOJ to protect fundamental rights such as religious freedom. On that Monday the 30th, Yates defied the administration and the ban by declaring in a statement that concluded: “For as long as I am the Acting Attorney General, the Department of Justice will not present arguments in defense of the Executive Order, unless and until I become convinced that it is appropriate to do so.” Within hours, she was informed by hand-delivered letter that the president had fired her for, per a White House press release, having betrayed the DOJ.

Why do I like it?

I admire the guts, clarity of values and patriotism it required for Yates – in her temporary role as the acting leader of the United States Department of Justice – to take a stand against the new president and the executive order on a matter of constitutional principle. Yates could have resigned rather than defy the administration, “[b]ut here’s the thing,” she explained to New Yorker journalist Ryan Lizza, “resignation would have protected my own personal integrity, because I wouldn’t have been part of this, but I believed, and I still think, that I had an obligation to also protect the integrity of the Department of Justice. And that meant that DOJ doesn’t go into court on something as fundamental as religious freedom, making an argument about something that I was not convinced was grounded in truth.”

In her speech at Harvard last week, Yates described the emergency legal analysis she had been forced to conduct as “illustrative of an unexpected moment where the law and conscience intersected.” I like this advice she gave to the law school graduates, and I consider it both a definition of leadership courage as well as a stark expression of what genuine risk-taking means: “[it] “means that you have to be willing to be wrong. And that can sometimes be a lonely place to be. But I’m hoping that fear of being wrong won’t keep you from acting. Because inaction, doing nothing, or simply going along, that’s a decision, too. And it seems the times in my life that I haven’t acted that’s when I’ve regretted it the most.”

In what situations would this be useful?

I think of several of my leadership coaching clients over the years, including nonprofit executive directors and CEOs who have reported to domineering and/or dysfunctional boards of directors, when Yates observes: “Doing your job means you are not simply a reflection of someone else’s talents or opinions. You’re the person to whom a leader turns when he or she needs to hear the truth.” This is a useful, affirming and astute description of what the job of being a leader entails, regardless of where you sit in the established hierarchy.

In my view, the way Yates describes “doing your job” on your toughest and most lonely days is what psychologist Robert Kegan refers to as “self-authorship” in his theory of adult development, and it is why self-authoring adults are more effective as leaders than those who haven’t yet reached this stage. Self-authoring leaders have the ability to manage the complexity of listening to and synthesizing and learning from (often contradictory) information offered by other people, and still come to their own authentic conclusion about the right thing to do.

What other resources might “pair” well with it?

For this blog entry, I drew on an article about Yates’ speech from the New York Times, having been inspired by reading Ryan Lizza’s more in-depth biographical piece on Yates in the New Yorker. To check facts, I also consulted this CNN article from the day after Yates was fired.

For Robert Kegan’s definition of the self-authoring mind – as opposed to the earlier-stage socialized mind – and why it matters to organizations, see this short (four-and-a-half-minute) video of him discussing it on YouTube.

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Leadership Library Review: “Accepting This”

May 2017

“Accepting This” by Mark Nepo

What are the big take-aways?

My three-month spring Leadership Book Group began last week, and the theme of it is “Leadership, Poetry and Paradox.”  We are discussing topics such as the paradoxical natures of power (why are leaders who show their vulnerability often the most powerful?), complexity (what is it that makes some of the simplest ideas also the hardest to enact?), time (how does slowing down help leaders get more done, faster?) and risk (when is a “safe” decision actually a dangerous one?) through the lens of poetry.

In our first meeting, which was a conversation about selections from the book Leading from Within: Poetry That Sustains the Courage to Lead (previously reviewed here in the Leadership Library), we focused on a poem by Mark Nepo called “Accepting This,” which presents various paradoxes.  The “big take-aways” are going to have to be your own:

Accepting This

Yes, it is true. I confess,

I have thought great thoughts,

and sung great songs—all of it

rehearsal for the majesty

of being held.

 

The dream is awakened

when thinking I love you

and life begins

when saying I love you

and joy moves like blood

when embracing others with love.

 

My efforts now turn

from trying to outrun suffering

to accepting love wherever

I can find it.

 

Stripped of causes and plans

and things to strive for,

I have discovered everything

I could need or ask for

is right here—

in flawed abundance.

 

We cannot eliminate hunger,

but we can feed each other.

We cannot eliminate loneliness,

but we can hold each other.

We cannot eliminate pain,

but we can live a life

of compassion.

 

Ultimately,

we are small living things

awakened in the stream,

not gods who carve out rivers.

 

Like human fish,

we are asked to experience

meaning in the life that moves

through the gill of our heart.

 

There is nothing to do

and nowhere to go.

Accepting this,

we can do everything

and go anywhere.

Why do I like it?

I like Nepo’s advice, as hard as it is to follow.  Many of us who are leaders in any sector that provides professional services, treatment or other forms of care to others eventually come to understand – through our own or others’ suffering – the harsh limits of what we can control or even influence.  We realize, somewhere along the way, that trying to avoid suffering paradoxically causes more pain.  When we stop striving and instead begin to stretch our tolerance for the discomfort of where we are right now, we might come to a moment when we recognize, like Nepo does, that

…everything

I could need or ask for

is right here—

in flawed abundance.

At the end of the day, taking care of each other’s basic human needs and having compassion for ourselves and everyone else – and I mean everyone else – is all we can do with the inevitability of hunger, loneliness and pain.

In what situations would this be useful?

It’s in the aftermath of a devastating loss or diagnosis, or some other trauma, that leaders are stripped to our most naked selves – and often in public.  In such times, these paradoxical words ring truest:

There is nothing to do

and nowhere to go.

Accepting this,

we can do everything

and go anywhere.

This poem and its leadership dimensions bring to my mind the interviews that Sheryl Sandberg, Facebook’s chief operating officer, has been giving lately about what she has learned about suffering, gratitude and resilience in the two years since her 47-year-old husband Dave died suddenly of coronary artery disease during a vacation.  For an especially poignant interview, I recommend last week’s “On Being” conversation with Krista Tippett, in which Sandberg shares strategies she has been adopting that promote post-traumatic growth in kids as well as adults.

What other resources might “pair” well with it?

Perhaps you would enjoy reading along with the “Leadership, Poetry and Paradox” group on your own?  In May we will be grappling with the “On Being” podcast of Krista Tippett’s interview of poet David Whyte entitled “The Conversational Nature of Reality” (previously reviewed here in the Leadership Library), and in June we will engage with Ursula Le Guin’s translation of Lao Tzu’s Tao Te Ching.

For an enlightening review of this particular translation of the Tao Te Ching, see Maria Popova’s marvelous article in Brain Pickings entitled “A Small Dark Light: Ursula K. Le Guin on the Legacy of the Tao Te Ching and What It Continues to Teach Us About Personal and Political Power 2,500 Years Later”.

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