Returning to the Office: Whether, When and How?

May 2021

“[Microsoft] plans to remove restrictions only once the virus acts ‘more like an endemic virus such as the seasonal flu,’ an executive wrote.”

In the U.S. and some other parts of the world where Covid-19 vaccines have been available for a few months now, we’re approaching a strange, exciting, anxious and complicated moment: What exactly can we start planning to do now, and when?  Specifically, my leadership coaching clients and organizations with non-essential workers are grappling with the question, How do we plan a safe return to the office?

One of my immediate instincts as a coach is to offer my clients’ inherent wisdom right back to them, and in this case that’s easy to do because I captured the biggest pearls in this blog last April!  As it turns out, the “Seven Things I Am Learning from My Clients in the Pandemic” during the emergent transition to lockdown tend to mirror – like bookends – much of what the experts are saying now about the back-to-office transition, only in slo-mo and with these three additions:

Thoroughly inquire about the myriad ways you, your colleagues and your organization are very different than you were before Covid-19 arrived. 

We’ve all been transformed – in fundamental, even sacred ways – by our “liminal experiences” of the past year and we are not the same people we were in the spring of 2020.  How do these changes, collectively, affect your organization’s culture and thus inform your design of practical teamwork-supporting plans for whether, when and how to return to the office?  (Check out this short summary of a recent Harvard study showing that 80% of workers do not want to return to full-time office life; and most of those who do want to come back to the office are parents.)  What leadership and management strategies will offer you and your employees psychological safety in a hybrid re-opening phase?  (As for physical safety, Google may be showing us the future of office design for long-term hybrid arrangements.) How does your own state of consciousness about leading through this in-between time determine what’s possible for the organization as a whole?

Clarify what the pandemic revealed to you and your organization that you want to keep, and commit to it now.  Make “live lightly” one of them. 

Covid-19’s disruptions to American culture starkly illuminated gaps and subverted our assumptions to the extent that they actually provide a blueprint for societal-level change.  Of course, this it true on organizational and individual scales, too.  For example, many of us have experienced (welcome or unwelcome) opportunities to recapture our “beginner’s mind,” recalibrate our priorities in life, percolate on creative projects, (re-)turn to poetry, and deepen our accountability for racial equity.  What have been the pandemic’s “silver linings” for your organization, your team, and for you?  What have you and your organization learned so far during Covid-19 that you intend to keep, and how will you invest in those commitments with sufficient time, money, energy and attention?  Now that you know how much of an illusion “control” can be, what agility practices will you and your organization employ to “live lightly,” as Jim Dethmer of the Conscious Leadership Group describes it

Cultivate even more (self-)compassion and empathy.  

We are all really tired at this point, and for good reason!  So cut yourself some slack, and cut plenty for everyone around you, too.  Many of us are “languishing” (the “neglected middle child of mental health” between depression and flourishing), even if thus far we have fared relatively well in the pandemic.  And then there are those of us who have not fared well, financially or in health or career or family life – and those who have lost loved ones – particularly in the BIPOC populations disproportionately affected by Covid.  With self-compassion and empathy for others, keep learning about how to maintain well-being in response to the trauma that perhaps you and almost certainly your colleagues of color are going through (in terms of Covid, yes, and also the trauma surfacing amidst the movement sparked by George Floyd’s murder).  Continue expanding your organization’s diversity, equity and inclusion (DE&I) efforts and working on your own antiracism.  In DE&I and in everything else, seek to balance accountability with forgiveness in a way that serves the purpose of growth-oriented learning, both your own as well as others’. 

Additional Resources:

  • This is a nerve-racking time, and I recently absorbed some new information about how to view anxiety as a habit that can be unlearned.  In this podcast interview of psychiatrist Jud Brewer by Ezra Klein, I was struck by the role of curiosity in unlearning anxiety, and I also thought it was interesting that research is revealing a mental “flavor” shared by curiosity and kindness.
  • Consider taking the Intercultural Development Inventory®, or IDI®, “the premier cross-cultural assessment of intercultural competence that is used by thousands of individuals and organizations…[to build the competence] to achieve international and domestic diversity and inclusion goals and outcomes.”  Inexpensive for what you get, in my opinion, the inventory is administered like any other web-based instrument, and includes a live debrief session with a certified IDI practitioner.  I found my IDI experience to be accurate and inspiring (even though the assessment showed I have a very long way to grow to get where I want to be in terms of how I handle my encounters with cultural difference).
  • Contemplate this reflection by the late African-American activist and writer, Audre Lorde: “Caring for myself is not self-indulgence, it is self-preservation, and that is an act of political warfare.”
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Leading in the Bardo

April 2021

The rupture of bardo inevitably leads to whatever is next…Impermanence is not just an illuminator of loss. It is an illuminator of newness, the ever-unfolding present moment and its creativity.  –Pema Khandro Rinpoche

Springtime as Bardo

At this transitional time of year in the northern hemisphere, lots of hibernating mammals, amphibians and other animals who have been in a torpid or frozen state – entombed/enwombed for many months – are stirring, as if resurrected.  They bust out of their dens or logs or mud reborn in hunger and, in many species, with offspring to feed.  Soon baby birds, looking like impossibly fragile miniatures of their dinosaur ancestors, will use up all their remaining energy to hatch from their confining eggs, just to initiate the next struggle for survival. 

Buddhists note that the bud is destroyed by the flower!  To me, spring is a confusingly ambivalent season of freedom, devastation, grace, turbulence, sweetness, peril and the transformative paradox – spiritually acknowledged at Passover and Easter – of what I will call “sacred violence.”  A couple of days ago my husband and I happened to observe the brief moment when a small long-tailed weasel slipped into an invisible vole-hole amid the straw on our back hill and efficiently popped out the other end, making off with its dead occupant clamped in her jaws; likely food for the weasel’s own litter.  

Leadership in the Bardo

For experiencing visceral attunement with the eerie edges between death, closing, rebirth and opening in the cosmic life cycle, springtime is – to my mind – the most poignant season.  Noticing these edges can be a powerful practice for leaders because leadership is, itself, a succession of bardos.  What’s a bardo?  It’s a Buddhist term for what exists after one thing has ended and a new thing has yet to begin.  Pema Khandro Rinpoche explains in “Breaking Open in the Bardo”:

The Tibetan term bardo, or “intermediate state,” is not just a reference to the afterlife [the phase between death and reincarnation]. It also refers more generally to these moments when gaps appear, interrupting the continuity that we otherwise project onto our lives. In American culture, we sometimes refer to this as having the rug pulled out from under us, or feeling ungrounded. These interruptions in our normal sense of certainty are what is being referred to by the term bardo. But to be precise, bardo refers to that state in which we have lost our old reality and it is no longer available to us.

Intermediate or liminal states happen non-stop in leadership, actually, because continuity is an illusion and disruption is constant.  A practice of acknowledging and breaking open in the relentless stream of bardos serves a leader well: it can bring to her – paradoxically – a stillness of interior presence amidst all the outward action.  Such presence, in turn, offers her sufficient space for the curiosity of mind, largeness of heart, and embodiment of perception that allows her to sense what’s emerging externally and choose whether or how to make a move.  Moreover, Otto Scharmer of MIT and co-founder of “U Theory” frequently quotes CEO of Hanover Insurance Bill O’Brien as observing: “The success of an intervention depends on the inner condition of the intervenor.”  Leaders are always encountering potential thresholds of intervention.  The late poet John O’Donohue put it this way: “a threshold is a line which separates two territories of spirit, and I think that very often how we cross is the key thing” [my emphasis].  I believe cultivating our how – our who we are in disruption – is leadership self-development, in a nutshell.

Arguably, leaders co-create reality by sensing and observing as we move from threshold to threshold, across boundaries, into the unknown.  Ambiguity can be our friend.  Bardos – interruptions, in-between states, or what William Bridges names “neutral zones” – are as available every second of the day and night all our lives as heartbeats, waiting to be leveraged by our awareness.  And (to reiterate observations from prior blog posts), the direction in which a leader consciously chooses to look at any given moment determines where energy is invested in the organization, when vision becomes realized, and even how the future is made.  In addition, whether a leader looks through eyes of anger, eyes of love, eyes of sadness, eyes of generosity, eyes of fear, or eyes of compassion, will similarly determine the tonal quality – and therefore the range – of what can happen around her. 

Hover in the bardo of absorbing that idea: Whether a leader looks through eyes of anger, eyes of love, eyes of sadness, eyes of generosity, eyes of fear, or eyes of compassion determines what is possible.  With what eyes are you crossing the threshold into your next moment?

Additional Resources

  • Otto Scharmer’s presentation, “Innovating in the Face of Disruption: How to Lead from the Emerging Future” (12/15/20), and/or his book The Essentials of Theory U: Core Principles and Applications (Berrett-Kohler, 2018). Scharmer asserts, “There is no such thing as the future…The future is how we respond to what happens to us.”
  • “The World is Our Field of Practice,” an “On Being” interview with African-American Zen Buddhist cleric, angel Kyodo williams.
  • Notice the easy-to-spot bardos in your daily existence, and consider the implications of how you view them.  Here are just a few examples: passing through doorways, gates and other literal thresholds; that wonky state of consciousness between sleeping and waking; a global pandemic; twilight; waiting for the doctor to call with test results; a slumbering puppy; a rain delay during a baseball game; the shift from fully sitting in a chair to fully standing up; a cocoon or chrysalis. The photo below that I took from my back door on this post’s publication date prompts wonderings: Is this a picture of late winter or early spring?  Is it raining or snowing?  Where does field become forest become cloud?  In the trees, where is the snow line?
This is the view out my back door in Montpelier, Vermont on the afternoon of April Fool’s Day, 2021.
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Leadership Library Review: Three Excellent Resources for Understanding Race, Caste and Antiracism

March 2021

What’s the problem with being “not racist”?  It is a claim that signifies neutrality: “I am not a racist but neither am I aggressively against racism.”  But there is no neutrality in the racism struggle.  The opposite of “racist” is not “not racist.”  It is “antiracist.”  –Ibram X. Kendi

Since the assassination of Trayvon Martin, I have been intentionally awakening to my unconscious biases and my racism, and seeking ways to hold myself accountable as a white person (and as a white leadership development specialist) for continuous growth on this uncomfortable lifelong journey.  After the murder of George Floyd, I began doubling-down on this commitment, including in professional offerings and in the Leadership Library. In recent months, three resources have been particularly meaningful, and I highly recommend engaging with them, ideally in the following order:

Isabel Wilkerson’s Caste: The Origins of Our Discontents (Random House, 2020)

While I was astonished by the breadth and depth of Wilkerson’s previous masterpiece about the Great Migration, The Warmth of Other Suns (Vintage, 2011), I admit its lengthy story-telling style was a slog for me.  However, this was not the case with Wilkerson’s latest exploration of the infrastructure of inequity, Caste, which I found to be crisp, powerful and persuasive. 

In this book, Wilkerson argues convincingly for a comparison among the caste hierarchies of India and specifically the social condition of the Dalits (“Untouchables”); the American enslavement – and then the deliberate, legally-sanctioned terrorization and oppression of – African Americans; and Nazi Germany’s research on the American example as inspiration for its persecution of Jews.  Wilkerson quotes historian Eugene DeFriest Betit’s Collective Amnesia: American Apartheid: African Americans’ 400 Years in North America, 1619-2019 (Xlibris, 2019) regarding how Hitler “especially marveled at the American ‘knack for maintaining an air of robust innocence in the wake of mass death.’”  To my mind, the most effective section of Caste is Wilkerson’s organization of the comparison material into “The Eight Pillars of Caste,” although the entire book is incredibly compelling.  Distinguishing between race and caste, Wilkerson demonstrates clearly and thoroughly that human cultures have known from ancient times what policies and practices create infrastructures of inequity.  While the book is a call-to-action, it only nods to possible solutions, such as reparations, and South Africa’s Truth and Reconciliation processes. Drawing different distinctions than those in Caste, Ibram X. Kendi’s book offers more detailed, start-where-you-are recommendations.

How to Be an Antiracist by Ibram X. Kendi (One World, 2019)

Opening with the brilliant “My Racist Introduction,” Kendi offers transformative definitions of racism and antiracism which – potently – leave no room in between for claims of “not racist.”  In Kendi’s philosophy and ethics, ideas and policies are either racist or antiracist.  There is no escapism into fuzzy leeway; there is no “I’m not racist.”  As Kendi says, “this book is ultimately about the basic struggle we’re all in, the struggle to be fully human and to see that others are fully human.”  In fact, part memoir and confessional, this book leverages Kendi’s own story of developing racial consciousness as he grew up, then adopting anti-white racism for a time, before “finding and turning down the unlit dirt road of antiracism,” while simultaneously tracking a well-researched legal, cultural and scientific history of racism in the United States.  It’s an impressive and provocative combination.

For me, grappling with my racism in a mindful effort to be more antiracist, How to Be an Antiracist offered the distinctions and examples I needed in order to liberate myself from perceived limitations – including a lack of authority on “diversity” as a white person – so that I could take action.  Kendi describes why previous attempts to solve racism haven’t worked, and why new antiracist policies are needed:  “Incorrect conceptions of race as a social construct (as opposed to a power construct), of racial history as a singular march of racial progress (as opposed to a duel of antiracist and racist progress), of the race problem as rooted in ignorance and hate (as opposed to powerful self-interest) – all come together to produce solutions bound to fail” (p. 201).  Not unlike Wilkerson, he argues that the history of racist ideas “is the history of powerful policy-makers erecting racist policies out of self-interest, then producing racist ideas to defend and rationalize the inequitable effects of their policies” (p. 230).  My reflections on the implications of this framing have empowered me to begin formulating personal and professional antiracism policies (Kendi defines antiracist policies in the final chapter, “Survival”) and acting on them.

Be Antiracist: A Journal for Awareness, Reflection and Action by Ibram X. Kendi (One World, 2020)

I am grateful to have Be Antiracist to support my continuing self-examination and growth.  As the jacket of this rich, disturbing and compassionate workbook states, “The heartbeat of antiracism is confession.  It is self-reflection.  It is constantly declaring the moments we are being racist and celebrating the moments we are being antiracist.”  Following the  progression of chapters in How to Be an Antiracist – but certainly usable as a stand-alone resource – the journal advances the explorer through a succession of (at least for me) scary and illuminating prompts.  A simple yet poignant one that I am still contemplating is, “When did race come for you?  Describe in detail your earliest memory when you saw the world through a racial lens.” 

Complementary Nuggets

With thanks to the racial discussion groups that my coach training program at Georgetown’s Institute for Transformational Learning have been running since 2016, which introduced me to these pieces, here are a few smaller, complementary nuggets:

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Lift Up Your Mojitos: Dessa’s “Who’s Yellen Now?”

February 2021

She’s the first that’s led

The Council of Economic Advisers, Tresh and the Fed,

She needs a three-sided coin that always comes up heads

To put the triple crown down when she goes to bed

Janet Yellen’s back!  In 2017, the 45th president decided to replace her as Federal Reserve Chair because – and I’m not kidding – he thought she was too short for the job.  But Yellen is “qualified as ffff —” for an even bigger role, and on the day then-president-elect Biden announced his intention to nominate Yellen for Treasury Secretary, the stock market shot up over 30,000 for a new record.  She was sworn in last Tuesday and has already begun briefing the new president on the economy.

National Public Radio’s “Marketplace” show reports that when Biden made his announcement back in November, he said, “We might have to ask Lin-Manuel Miranda, who wrote the musical about the first secretary of the treasury, ‘Hamilton,’ to write another musical for the first woman secretary of the treasury — Yellen.”  So “Marketplace” asked the rapper Dessa, a member of the hip-hop collective Doomtree and a contributor to “The Hamilton Mixtape,” to imagine a Miranda-style song about her.  That was the stimulus and “Who’s Yellen Now?” was the response.  (It’s worth noting here that the “Hamilton” was also an inspiration for phenom Amanda Gorman’s Inaugural Day poem, “The Hill We Climb.”)

There are a lot of things I love about “Who’s Yellen Now?” and one of my favorite lines (which is an admittedly ironic one, in light of the title’s double-entendre riff on Janet’s name) is “…here comes Yellen with that inside voice/Never mind the mild manner, policies make noise.”  I like this actions-speak-louder-than-words message, combined with the point that a louder voice isn’t necessarily more effective or more powerful, including when it comes to certain domains of governmental responsibility such as money, jobs and economic growth.  Overall the lyrics acknowledge gender stereotypes with a nod toward balancing embodied “feminine” approaches to leadership with traditional “masculine” ones.  The potency of this balance, which led Jack Zenger and Joseph Folkman to suggest in 2019 that women may be better leaders than men, has recently been underscored by their new research conducted in the context of Covid-19.  The big take-aways:

Perhaps the most valuable part of the data we’re collecting throughout the [Covid-19] crisis is hearing from thousands of direct reports about what they value and need from leaders now. Based on our data they want leaders who are able to pivot and learn new skills; who emphasize employee development even when times are tough; who display honesty and integrity; and who are sensitive and understanding of the stress, anxiety, and frustration that people are feeling. Our analysis shows that these are traits that are more often being displayed by women.

I bet a woman rapper and former record executive like Dessa understands this as well as anyone, and it sounds as though she found an unlikely hero in Yellen while learning about her in order to write the song.  “I read a lot about her to make sure that she was somebody who I’d like to send up,” Dessa told “Marketplace” host Kai Ryssdal, “and it was really exciting to become a fan of Janet Yellen.”  She added, “The three of us who worked on this song …I don’t think we’ve ever had so much fun…It was like, how do we get out of this normal rap game and into this [cabinet] appointment niche because it was so much fun to write.”

I join Dessa and her collaborators in lifting up a metaphorical mojito to Janet Yellen “managing the mint” as the first woman to hold the title of Treasury Secretary in its 231-year-old history!  (Complete lyrics to the song are below; click on the title and scroll down for the link to hear Dessa perform it.)

WHO’S YELLEN NOW?”

Vocals and Lyrics by Dessa

Production by Lazerbeak and Andy Thompson

 HOOK

 Oooo, who’s Yellen now?

 Who’s Yellen, who’s Yellen now?

 VERSE 1

 Doves on the left

 Hawks on the right

 Crosstalk in the flock tryna fight mid-flight

 But here comes Yellen with that inside voice

 Never mind the mild manner, policies make noise

 She’s 5-foot nothing, but hand to God

 She can pop a collar, she can rock a power bob

 Bay Ridge represent!

 Brooklyn’s in the cabinet!

 Damn, Janet, go and get it —

 Fifth in line for president!

 She knows the kinda stimulus it takes to pass a buck

 I heard she called the housing crisis 

 She’s qualified as ffff —

 It only took a couple centuries

 The first female secretary of the treasury

 BRIDGE

 Don’t want no tax evasion

 Forgers faking

 In her treasury

 Trying for higher wages

 For the nation

 Less disparity

 VERSE 2

 Watch your step, there’s busted glass

 Janet broke another ceiling

 You can bet your brass

 That the Lego guy is leaving

 Last check to cash

 — ‘Scuse me, Janet has a briefing and a flight to catch

 And Janet

 She’s the first that’s led

 The Council of Economic Advisers, Tresh and the Fed,

 She needs a three-sided coin that always comes up heads

 To put the triple crown down when she goes to bed

 Call the decorators

 New boss in the office

 Spenders and the savers

 Watch the confirmation process

 We got to meet her

 Now let’s let her settle in 

 And lift up your mojitos —

 ‘Cause she manages the mint

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Leadership Library Review — “Beginning” in “Consolations: The Solace, Nourishment and Underlying Meaning of Everyday Words” by David Whyte (Many Rivers, Rev. 2019)

January 2021

A collection of short essays that is astounding in its loveliness and profundity all the way through, Consolations is one of those books that can always speak to me at any moment – as the curator of my memories and as the ancestor of my future self – and offer something fresh.  Each time I crack it open, different words call to my latest unfolding wondering or to my current search for elucidation on one thorny subject or another (Forgiveness, Genius, Naming, Rome, Courage, Denial, Pilgrim, Hiding, Maturity…). 

Perhaps the most practical – and maybe the longest – sentence in the entire book is at the ending of “Beginning” (p. 31):

It is always hard to believe that the courageous step is so close to us, that it is closer than we could ever imagine, that in fact we already know what it is, and that the step is simpler, more radical than we had thought: just picking up the pen or the wood chisel, just picking up the instrument or the phone, which is why we so often prefer the story to be more elaborate, our identities to be safely clouded by fear, why we want the horizon to remain always in the distance, the promise never fully and simply made, the essay longer than it needs to be and the answer safely in the realm of impossibility.

Certainly a Beginning – that tiny yet momentous act of transforming the impossible into the possible with our mere mind – is risky and even perilous.  It is radical and subversive and magical, and we know it.  How incomprehensibly powerful we are – and how terrifying that is!  Also, as a leader it can seem as though everything you believe yourself to be, and what you believe you are seen to be by others, is at stake in starting something new. This is why understanding one’s less productive habits around Beginnings (e.g., the tendency to fudge or hedge them, to speak vaguely or with mixed messages, to move too slowly, or to ask others to dive in without getting your own feet wet, etc.) is an essential self-awareness practice of effective leaders.

One productive habit that I encourage my clients to develop around risk-taking is to frame the risk as an experiment: the purpose of experimentation is to gather data, and any information that results is therefore useful.  The experimental mindset mitigates our culture’s seductive pressure to quickly declare judgment (succeed or fail, lose or win, good or bad) and offers us instead the more generative and energizing invitation to learn, play and adapt.  That said, there are times in our lives when contemplating Beginning is so frightening that the only truly motivating question that remains is, “What’s at risk if you don’t take the courageous step?” As Brene Brown points out, there is no courage without vulnerability, so vulnerability is necessary to Beginning, too.  Fortunately, Vulnerability is another word Whyte rhapsodizes – particularly poignantly – in Consolations (although it’s even more devastating to hear Whyte read the mini-essay aloud in his own voice).  He also takes on Courage, which he defines on page 49 as “the measure of our heartfelt participation with life, with another, with a community, a work; a future.”

Further Resources

For more on David Whyte’s poetry and philosophy, I recommend his breath-taking interview with Krista Tippett for On Being, “The Conversational Nature of Reality,”  which I reviewed a few years ago in this blog.  To deeply explore the theme of Beginning in a live online forum with David Whyte, check out “Start Close In,” a webinar series he is offering for three consecutive Sundays this month, starting on the 10th.

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Kamala and Doug: Extraordinary, and Not

December 2020

Fellas, this is how it’s done

Less famous, of course, than vice president-elect Kamala Harris’s warm and glittering election speech on November 7th (and the unspoken words of her white pantsuit on this centennial anniversary of the 19th Amendment’s ratification) are the comments her husband Doug Emhoff was making even before Joe Biden selected Kamala as his running mate.

According to a recent article in USA Today, when Doug was “asked by a 9-year-old in an online ‘Ask a Grown-up’ session sponsored by Fatherly what he would do if Harris got the nod from Biden, he replied: ‘Well, first I’d say “Yay!” And then I’m just gonna do what I always do, Atticus.  I’m going to support her because it’s really important for men and even young boys to support the strong and wonderful women in their lives, and I’m going to do that, and I hope you do that too.’” 

It is widely reported that — unlike Jill Biden, who plans to keep teaching at community college while serving as first lady to president-elect Joe Biden – Doug Emhoff is leaving his job as a corporate attorney by Inauguration Day both to avoid any possible conflicts of interest and to commit himself full-time to his role as the first second gentleman.  His plan is to define the job around access-to-justice work.

Extraordinary, and not

While it’s literally extra-ordinary to have a second gentleman in the incoming administration (and a Jewish one at that, who is married to – as we all know – the first woman vice president, who is also the first Black and South Asian person to hold the office, and was elected on the ticket that got 80 million votes, the most in American history), it’s less extraordinary than most people think that a man who’s successful in his own right would take a step back to lift up his wife’s career.  Anecdotally, my husband puts my career first without sacrificing his own professional goals and growth, several other men in my family do this, and so do many men in my social network as well as in my professional orbit.  Women who are the primary career-person in their relationships are common in my leadership coaching clientele, too.

While the number of women CEOs is pitiful, the pay gap is tragic, and the so-called “happiness penalty” is absolutely real for women who are also parents or caregivers at home, 2019 data from the American Community Survey “suggest that among married, heterosexual couples in the U.S., a quarter of wives, or about 15 million, are the primary breadwinners in their family. In 1960, the share was only 6%,” says the Institute for Family Studies.  (It’s not yet known exactly how the Covid-19 pandemic will have affected these numbers by the time it’s over, but you get the point.)  I’d also be curious to know what the statistics are for non-married heterosexual working couples, as there are a lot of reasons why women who make more money choose not to bind themselves legally to their partners. 

In any case, for those of us men and women who swim against the tide of our culture’s nonsensical narratives about hetero marriage and “breadwinning,” it will be refreshing to have a very high-profile anti-misogynist marriage in the public eye. 

Further resources

Study the contrasts.  Consider which represents masculine leadership that nurtures an abundant and wellbeing-centric (as opposed to a zero-sum-game and profit-centric) future for ensuing generations: Doug Emhoff’s commitment to the women in his life, or vice president Mike Pence’s regard for second lady Karen Pence (whom Mike reportedly calls “Mother”).  In 2002, Mike said he won’t meet one-on-one with women other than Karen, presumably because it disrespects her under the damaging and perverse assumption that no heterosexual man can keep his hands to himself when alone with women.  Then again, maybe Mike’s just generalizing from the predatory behavior of examples like his (perhaps hypocritically, perhaps not) chosen boss: “Yeah, that’s her.  With the gold.  I better use some Tic Tacs just in case I start kissing her.  You know I’m automatically attracted to beautiful – I just start kissing them.  It’s like a magnet.  Just kiss.  I don’t even wait.  And when you’re a star they let you do it.  You can do anything…Grab them by the pussy.  You can do anything.”

That from the very stable genius who didn’t keep Janet Yellen on as Federal Reserve Chair because he thought she was too short.  (You can’t make this stuff up.)  In another masculine leadership contrast, consider Biden’s expected nomination of Yellen for Treasury Secretary.  The stock market’s milestone jump over 30,000 last week, partly on the news that Biden was picking Yellen as the first woman to hold that office in its 231-year history, may be an indication that our culture’s gender narratives are indeed evolving.

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In Praise of Ambiguity (The Rubber Chicken of Reality)

November 2020

Suffering, possibility and leadership

In recent weeks I have been finding solace and sanity in contemplating this astonishing nugget from Pema Chödrön’s When Things Fall Apart: Heart Advice for Difficult Times (Shambhala, 2016, p. 52):

As human beings, not only do we seek resolution, but we also feel that we deserve resolution. However, not only do we not deserve resolution, we suffer from resolution. We don’t deserve resolution; we deserve something better than that. We deserve our birthright, which is the middle way, an open state of mind that can relax with paradox and ambiguity.

If you’re perplexed and thinking “What the…?” that’s quite understandable; everything about this whole idea that we suffer from resolution is incredibly counter-cultural!  In our impatient, striving, polarized society, just tolerating open-ended grey areas – much less opening up our minds to, and relaxing, with them as our “birthright” (which is, itself, a paradox of course) – can sound crazy. 

But I believe it’s true that, while humans naturally seek stability, simplicity, certainty and resolution, these instincts cause us great suffering.  This is because the stark fact is we live in a VUCA (volatile, uncertain, complex and ambiguous) world.  Therefore, when we rush to decide, declare and complete things, we are making a futile attempt to go against the prevailing conditions and – worse – we close ourselves off from possibility. 

On some level we are aware that our (very understandable) fear-based attachment to outcomes tends to foreshorten creative potential.  Yet we’d rather sabotage our own futures by constraining ourselves with artificial deadlines than endure the discomfort of not-knowing indefinitely while we hold a space for something to arise that is almost always fresher, wiser, sweeter, more impactful or more beautiful.  This is why learning to embrace ambiguity – and the exciting implications of its dynamic process – is an important leadership capacity. 

How does a leader “do ambiguity?”

You can nurture a welcoming attitude toward ambiguity with whatever resilience practice works for you.  “Doing” ambiguity is, paradoxically, an “undoing.”  Any practice that loosens up your thinking and unravels or multiplies your perspectives on the world will help.  (Tip: unlike our busy minds with their attachments to a past and future “self,” our bodies know exactly how to handle the ceaseless bardo of ambiguity because they are unable to do anything but exist in the present moment – breathing – letting in and letting go.) 

One of my resiliency practices is humor.  If you think about it, good jokes are often powered on paradox: after a clear set-up, the best punch lines subvert an expected resolution with a surprise twist.  Consider this well-known Buddhist expression about the basic human condition, which is so soberingly sage it cracks me up: “The bad news is you’re falling.  The good news is there’s no ground” (bah-dum-BAH!).  To me, a serious deep truth is often very funny, which is a view actually backed up by science (i.e., it’s not unrelated to, and is illustrated by, physicist Niels Bohr’s famous observation that “the opposite of a profound truth may well be another profound truth”). 

Speaking of science, another strategy for welcoming ambiguity is to reframe it using a friendlier term: possibility.  Humans live in total flux but, by and large, our default mode is to resist it unless we cultivate a certain quality of awareness, “an open state of mind that can relax with paradox and ambiguity.”  According to quantum physics, what we call “reality” results from the incomprehensibly complex co-creative act of observation between a field of potential and our consciousness.  If I understand this concept correctly, all things are simultaneously possible until the moment they come to pass, which was proven by the gob-smacking “double-slit experiment.”  The bottom line (there is no bottom!) is that, when it comes right down to it, everything we intuitively take to be “real” is less physical matter than it is wave-like “potential” until the last instant, when the potential seems to make a choice and appears to become fixed or solid.  As if this dream-like description of reality weren’t bizarre enough, another version of the same double-slit experiment demonstrates that the field of potential makes different choices when being observed.  (!)  In other words, we – and our idea of reality – are continuously co-created in the act of observation. 

If this magical co-creation of reality between the observer and the observed sounds more to you like spiritual hoo-hah than science, well you’re not wrong, because it’s both.  There are those whose spiritual interpretation of the science is that the field of infinite potential (which is, to over-simplify, what we might think of as the entire seen and unseen cosmos across all space and time) is comprised of consciousness.  For these philosophers, limiting consciousness to an organ function doesn’t make sense in a universe that is capable of producing such organs!  One proponent, Paul Levy, writes in his provocative treatment of the question, entitled The Quantum Revelation: A Radical Synthesis of Science and Spirituality, “Thinking that the source of consciousness is in the brain is like looking in the radio for the announcer.” 

Okay, back to practicalities 

What does all this have to do with leadership?  Arguably, leaders co-create reality by sensing and observing as we go, making the path by walking.  Ambiguity is always available, waiting to be leveraged by our awareness: theoretically, infinite possibilities exist until the moment of decision (and making a discrete decision isn’t “resolution” when we are talking about the larger picture over the long haul).  The direction in which a leader chooses to look at any given moment determines where plans get implemented in the organization, when vision gets manifested, and how the future is made.  Moreover, whether a leader looks through eyes of sadness, eyes of generosity, eyes of fear, or eyes of compassion, will similarly determine the tonal quality – and therefore the range – of what can happen around her.  (A useful metaphor for this effect: “Leaders bring the weather,” as Bob Anderson and Bill Adams are fond of saying.)

One specific, pragmatic and urgent application of these concepts for leaders regards race.  For white leaders, learning how to “do ambiguity” is essential to becoming full-bodied antiracists.  In a recent On Being interview, White Fragility author Robin DiAngelo explains: “Doing our work with the humility necessary to live in ambiguity – white people working on our internalized white supremacy with each other, uncomfortable in the struggle between getting it right and getting it wrong, being vulnerable and making mistakes – is exactly how we become ‘an embodied antiracist culture.’” 

Recommended Resources

For more by Pema Chödrön on “The Fundamental Ambiguity of Being Human: How to Live Beautifully with Uncertainty and Change,” see this piece in Tricycle.  For using humor to deal with the ambiguities of the pandemic, check out this article in Forbes, which specifically addresses challenges faced by women leaders.  For more on understanding “antiracism,” the most comprehensive resource I’ve found is Ibram X. Kendi’s definitive treatment, How to Be an Antiracist (One Word, 2019); for quick advice on handling micro-moments, see this New York Times article on “How to Be an Active Bystander When You See Casual Racism.”  For a good video explaining the various versions of the double-slit experiment discussed above in accessible terms, I recommend this 9-minute piece by Jim Al-Khalili on YouTube

Milkweed falling apart, photographed on a recent walk around my neighborhood in Montpelier, Vermont.
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Leadership Library: “You Make the Path by Walking”

October 2020

“You Make the Path by Walking”

A favored quotation of poet David Whyte’s is this one from the 19th-century Spanish writer, Antonio Machado:

Pathmaker, your footsteps
are the path and nothing more;
pathmaker, there is no path,
you make the path by walking.

In my view, this is a crucial observation about leadership in these unpredictable times, for which there is no path.  Paradoxically, pathlessness is the source of both the enormous suffering as well as the massive transformative potential in our response to the virus plaguing our planet. 

There is no path

The complexity and uncertainty of this era, reflected in a relentless cascade of daily news revelations which are impossible to digest, also means infinite opportunity to reframe what we are going through globally and individually.  As leaders of our own lives, how do we recognize – and begin to let go of – the resistance we humans innately feel toward uncertainty?  How do we cultivate easier present-moment awareness, and first bring to ourselves the compassion that is necessary if we are to fully offer it to others?  What renewed sense of purpose can we find in our lives and our work precisely because they have been disrupted by Covid-19, political and cultural turbulence, accelerating climate change, etc.?  These are the questions of a path-making leader.  If you are able to mindfully place your footsteps into the unknown with open-hearted courage and curiosity, the spaciousness of your presence will allow you and the path to invite and meet one another. 

Pathmaker, your footsteps/are the path and nothing more

Navigating complexity and transformation requires transforming ourselves first, because to some extent we are a microcosm of each system in which we operate.  As Einstein famously said, “No problem can be solved from the same level of consciousness that created it.”  When we change our consciousness, everything around us changes.

This kind of self-transformation requires basic wellness habits before anything else: healthy nourishment, sufficient sleep, regular exercise, human connection and spending time in nature.  (For more, see the updated Seven Things I Am Learning from My Clients in the Pandemic post here in the Leadership Library.)  We must also have a consistent reservoir of trust, confidence, and sense of safety – within ourselves – to make a path by walking it.  There is no shortcut to growing this powerful capacity, but at least there is a well-researched way to develop it, and that’s through mindfulness meditation.  (A meditation practice can take many forms, including by literally walking.)  When we discover the practice that works for us, the relaxed yet alert awareness we eventually experience in the meditation enables us to access a deeper kind of “knowing” in ourselves, from which feelings of trust, security and expansiveness naturally arise.  Some of the leadership traits that can emerge from contact with this wisdom include knowing ourselves (i.e. the authenticity that comes from continual, unvarnished and compassionate self-observation), intimacy with our own intentions, commitments and shadow aspects (the bedrock of integrity), and clarity on our evolving purpose.  And playfulness!  When we have access to these qualities – which are true super-powers available to anyone willing to cultivate a meditation discipline – we can lead from wherever we are in a family, community, organization or cultural system.  We can even lead from simply adopting a connective mindset of loving-kindness.

Because it requires a transformation of our own consciousness, I believe the journey to becoming a transformational leader is an inherently spiritual one.  The journey often begins in response to a mysterious invitation or “call,” from that deep-knowing place inside ourselves, to vocation and action: to take the (sometimes terrifying) next step and just keep walking.  It tests us at the core of who we think we are. It offers us the transformative choice of allowing our heart, when it is inevitably broken, to be broken open instead of apart.  We need profound courage to risk what matters most to us – our comfort, our reputation, certain relationships, and even our physical safety – to grow “big” enough to serve a cause larger than ourselves.  Although, as Audre Lorde pointed out, “When I dare to be powerful, to use my strength in the service of my vision, then it becomes less and less important whether I am afraid.” 

You make the path by walking

Consider the following passage from Joseph Jaworski’s book Synchronicity: The Inner Path of Leadership (Berrett-Koehler, 2011):

The conventional view of leadership emphasizes positional power and conspicuous accomplishment. But true leadership is about creating a domain in which we continually learn and become more capable of participating in our unfolding future. A true leader thus sets the stage on which predictable miracles, synchronistic in nature, can – and do – occur…. The capacity to discover and participate in our unfolding future has more to do with our being – our total orientation of character and consciousness – than with what we do. Leadership is about creating, day by day, a domain in which we and those around us continually deepen our understanding of reality and are able to participate in shaping the future. This, then, is the deeper territory of leadership – collectively “listening” to what is wanting to emerge in the world, and then having the courage to do what is required.

Are you wondering, more specifically, what it looks like during Covid-19 to create “a domain in which we and those around us continually deepen our understanding of reality and are able to participate in shaping the future”?  Otto Scharmer of MIT’s Sloan School of Management describes leadership, systems awareness, listening and the pandemic in this half-hour episode of the Transformational Leadership Podcast.  He says, “There is no such thing as the future…The future is how we respond to what happens to us…The future is emerging from the quality of how we respond in the disruption of the current moment.” 

For Further Listening: A Recommended Resource

Are you curious about who actually “makes the path by walking” in real life?  (Well, arguably we all do, whether we choose to acknowledge it or not!)  A global business leader who is, in my opinion, an exemplar of making the path by walking and consciously leading from the emerging future is Jacqueline Novogratz, the CEO of Acumen.  Acumen has been described as “an exercise in creative, human-centered capitalism: a venture capital fund that serves some of the poorest people in the world.”  In a gently fierce conversation with Krista Tippett in this episode of On Being, Novogratz speaks to the opportunity of our moment when she says, “I want future generations to look back on us and say, ‘Look how hard they tried,’ not “Look at how blind they were.”  How does she hold the heft of what this implies lightly enough to carry it?  For that, we go back to mindfulness.  Novogratz does her own version of a practice akin to the Jesuit Examen:

I don’t do it every single day. But when I do do it, my day is different; and that is, to start with intention. What do you want to accomplish in the day? Who do you want to be? And then check in with yourself later and ask yourself how you did. Do an account. And what did you learn from it? And then, importantly, forgive yourself for what you didn’t do or what you did poorly. And then the most important part of all is to express gratitude.

Speaking of gratitude: If the Jesuit Examen is not your cup of tea, you might experiment with a simple gratitude journal, if you don’t keep one already. For several months now, I’ve personally been buoyed by doing something akin to this Three Good Things practice offered by Greater Good in Action.

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Leadership Library Review — A Trifecta of Soul Balms: Three Books for Autumn in the Pandemic

September 2020

“Joy is the kind of happiness that doesn’t depend on what happens.” –David Steindl-Rast

A Trifecta of Soul Balms: Three Books for Autumn in the Pandemic

Are you nervous about the fall and winter?  I am.  Perhaps like me, you are sensing in autumn’s unfolding an apprehension among those of us in the northern hemisphere who have enjoyed relative freedom during the pandemic so far.  Covid-19 came on in the spring and surged over the summer months when it was comfortable to spend a lot of time outside.  Already fatigued by the virus, we wonder – privately to ourselves, or out loud to friends in our search for a pod – whether we will feel even more constrained, exhausted, sad, claustrophobic, isolated, or anxious when we move further indoors as the seasons cycle into much colder weather.  If this resonates with you, I have three book suggestions.  You might begin by declaring,

Yes to Life: In Spite of Everything

This volume of three essays by psychotherapist and Holocaust survivor Viktor Frankl was only recently published in English for the first time (Beacon Press, 2020).  Delivered as a lecture series in 1946 mere months after Frankl was liberated from his final of four concentration camps (Theresienstadt, Auschwitz, Kaufering and Türkheim), Yes to Life is based on the original manuscript for what became Frankl’s now-world-famous book, Man’s Search for Meaning.   In his fascinating introduction, Daniel Goleman (who coined the term “emotional intelligence”) distills Frankl’s “yes to life” approach down to a stark choice faced iconically by concentration camp prisoners:

Despite the cruelty visited on prisoners by the guards, the beatings, torture, and constant threat of death, there was one part of their lives that remained free: their own minds.  The hopes, imagination, and dreams of prisoners were up to them, despite their awful circumstances.  This inner ability was real human freedom; people are prepared to starve, [Frankl] saw, “if starvation has a purpose or meaning.”

It may sound like tough reading (i.e. “why would I intentionally go there when I’m already down?”), but I found Yes to Life offers a healthy model for optimistic perspectivising on darkness and difficulty.  The three essays – “On the Meaning and Value of Life I,” “On the Meaning and Value of Life II,” and “Experimentum Crucis” – explore in robust detail Frankl’s philosophies of humanity, suffering and meaning-making by analyzing topics like concentration camp dynamics and examining concepts like “fate” in ways that are so intellectually subtle and emotionally perceptive that they are inspiring.  In the first essay, Frankl writes:

In general, of course, it is not advisable to create difficulties for oneself [unlike the challenges that athletes, for example, pose to themselves for the sake of cultivating skill]; in general, suffering as a result of misfortune is only meaningful if this misfortune has come about through fate, and is thus unavoidable and inescapable….Fate, in other words, what happens to us, can certainly be shaped, in one way or another.  “There is no predicament that cannot be ennobled either by an achievement or an endurance,” said Goethe.  Either we change our fate, if possible, or we willingly accept it, if necessary [author’s emphasis].  In either case we can experience nothing but inner growth through such misfortune.  And now we understand what Holderlin means when he writes: “If I step onto my misfortune, I stand higher.”

And when you are afraid in the midst of your misfortune, you might become a burst of light by “turning fear into fire,” like African-American activist and writer Audre Lorde (1934-1992):

“A Burst of Light” from the forthcoming Selected Works of Audre Lorde

This collection of twelve essays and 60 poems by “black, lesbian, mother, warrior, poet” Audre Lorde, released by Norton in mid-September, is edited by the contemporary thought leader on race and gender Roxane Gay. 

I was first introduced to “A Burst of Light”in Maria Popova’s infinitely enriching Brain Pickings blog, in which Popova amply showcases Lorde’s luminous courage.  After her second cancer diagnosis, for which she refuses treatment, Lorde writes in a series of diary entries, as quoted by Popova:

Dear goddess! Face-up again against the renewal of vows. Do not let me die a coward, mother. Nor forget how to sing. Nor forget song is a part of mourning as light is a part of sun….

I am listening to what fear teaches. I will never be gone. I am a scar, a report from the frontlines, a talisman, a resurrection. A rough place on the chin of complacency….

When I’m open, I’m also less despairing. The more clearly I see what I’m up against, the more able I am to fight this process going on in my body that they’re calling liver cancer. And I am determined to fight it even when I am not sure of the terms of the battle nor the face of victory. I just know I must not surrender my body to others unless I completely understand and agree with what they think should be done to it. I’ve got to look at all of my options carefully, even the ones I find distasteful. I know I can broaden the definition of winning to the point where I can’t lose….

We all have to die at least once. Making that death useful would be winning for me. I wasn’t supposed to exist anyway, not in any meaningful way in this fucked-up whiteboys’ world.

When any of us chooses to rest in Presence/Ground of Being/Grace/Love for as many moments in our existence as we are able – moments we do not distract ourselves from, or sleepwalk through – we allow ourselves to awaken.  Our hearts break open. There can be a peculiar delight in attention to aspects of our life and purpose which are much vaster than ourselves that arises in the way Lorde describes:

I want to live the rest of my life, however long or short, with as much sweetness as I can decently manage, loving all the people I love, and doing as much as I can of the work I still have to do. I am going to write fire until it comes out my ears, my eyes, my noseholes — everywhere. Until it’s every breath I breathe. I’m going to go out like a fucking meteor!

And speaking of sweetness and meteors, the third recommended reading in this trifecta of soul balms is:

The Book of Joy: Lasting Happiness in a Changing World

The most thoroughly wondrous and reassuring of psychic salves, The Book of Joy: Lasting Happiness in a Changing World (Avery, 2016), chronicles a five-day conversation on the nature of joy – as well as its obstacles and pillars – between His Holiness the Dalai Lama and Archbishop Desmond Tutu. 

On the occasion of the Dalai Lama’s 80th birthday, two of the world’s most inclusive (and heroic) spiritual leaders met in Dharamsala, India for a lengthy visit.  The Dalai Lama has lived in exile since his harrowing escape from Tibet in the uprising of 1959, and Archbishop Tutu survived South Africa’s violence and oppression before chairing the Truth and Reconciliation Commission in the 1990’s.  As the book jacket describes the pair, “[d]espite their hardships – or, as they would say, because of them – they are two of the most joyful people on the planet.” 

They gladly share the open “secret” to happiness, which is that it is already ever-present within us.  Happiness is accessible in our own minds and hearts when we are able to respond to things that occur in our lives with what the Dalai Lama calls “mental immunity:” 

Mental immunity is just learning to avoid the destructive emotions and to develop the positive ones.  First, we must understand the mind – there are so many different states of mind – the diverse thoughts and emotions we experience on a daily basis.  Some of these thoughts and emotions are harmful, even toxic, while others are healthy and healing.  The former disturb our mind and cause much metal pain.  The latter bring us true joyfulness…When we understand this reality, it is much easier to deal with the mind and to take preventive measures.

This teaching is what Frankl and Lorde also tell us: we suffer when we resist impermanence and try to control that which is beyond controlling.  And the ability to release ourselves from these sources of suffering is something anyone can learn how to do.

Another primary teaching in The Book of Joy is the power of compassion:

“What the Dalai Lama and I are offering,” [said Archbishop Tutu] “is a way of handling your worries: thinking about others. You can think about others who are in a similar situation or perhaps even in a worse situation, but who have survived, even thrived. It does help quite a lot to see yourself as part of a great whole.” [Author Douglas Abrams comments:] Once again, the path of joy was connection and the path of sorrow was separation.

One of my favorite aspects of the book, which I loved in its entirety, is a 40-page guide to “Joy Practices” tucked into the back of it.  If you are interested in starting or expanding your box of tools for developing mental immunity, this section of The Book of Joy is full of appealing, gentle and accessible techniques.  Not coincidentally, embedded within them are lots of beautiful coaching questions.

F-Balms

“F” is for Four more balms worth considering, each related to the trifecta:

  • The Choice: Embrace the Possible by Dr. Edith Eva Eger (Scribner, 2017).  Dr. Eger, now in her 90’s, was a mentee of Frankl’s and also a Holocaust survivor and psychotherapist.  She has a new book coming out soon, called The Gift.
  • “The Other Side of the Pandemic,” an interview of angel Kyodo williams, African-American Zen priest and co-author of Radical Dharma: Talking Race, Love and Liberation, on Dan Harris’s “10% Happier” podcast.
  • This lovely and inviting Inside Transformational Leadership interview with the late Kathleen Dowling Singh: “The Grace in Aging: Awaken as You Grow Older”.
  • The following excerpt from “A Great Wagon” by the thirteenth-century Sufi Muslim scholar and theologian Jalāl ad-Dīn Muhammad Rūmī:

Out beyond ideas of wrongdoing and rightdoing,
there is a field. I’ll meet you there.
When the soul lies down in that grass,
the world is too full to talk about.
Ideas, language, even the phrase “each other”
doesn’t make any sense.
The breeze at dawn has secrets to tell you.
Don’t go back to sleep.
You must ask for what you really want.
Don’t go back to sleep.
People are going back and forth across the doorsill
where the two worlds touch.
The door is round and open.
Don’t go back to sleep.

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Leadership Library Review: “Together, You Can Redeem the Soul of Our Nation” by John Lewis

August 2020

“Together, You Can Redeem the Soul of Our Nation” by John Lewis (New York Times, 7/30/20)

“Democracy is not a state. It is an act, and each generation must do its part to help build what we called the Beloved Community, a nation and world society at peace with itself.”  –John Lewis

Persistence

Born in 1940 in rural Alabama, John Robert Lewis – one of the “big six” leaders of the Civil Rights movement – served Georgia’s 5th congressional district since 1987.  Lewis was a Freedom Rider, organized sit-ins, and in 1965 led the first Selma march over Edmund Pettus Bridge on what became known as Bloody Sunday.  An advocate of nonviolence, he was beaten viciously and jailed many times.  Lewis was diagnosed with stage 4 pancreatic cancer late last year, following a routine check-up.  His final public appearance was in June, at Washington D.C.’s brand-new Black Lives Matter Plaza on 16th Street NW near the White House, which he visited because he simply wanted to see it for himself.  Lewis was admitted to the hospital the next day and died on July 17th.

When President Barack Obama eulogized Congressman Lewis on Thursday, he described Lewis as “an American whose faith was tested again and again to produce a man of pure joy and unbreakable perseverance.”  Congressman Lewis’s perseverance was so unbreakable that he managed to address the American people from his casket, in what amounts to a love letter to us all, published by the New York Times on the day of his own funeral.

What Congressman Lewis Calls Us To Do

In his Op Ed piece, what Lewis urges each of us to do is be an accountable leader of our own life.  He encourages us to “answer the highest calling of your heart by standing up for what you truly believe”:

Ordinary people with extraordinary vision can redeem the soul of America by getting in what I call good trouble, necessary trouble. Voting and participating in the democratic process are key. The vote is the most powerful nonviolent change agent you have in a democratic society. You must use it because it is not guaranteed. You can lose it.

He further exhorts us to learn and understand the history, context and constructs that have made the world work the way it now does, and which – therefore – point to solutions for our most intractable problems.  He speaks with profound wisdom to the transformative potential of this time.  Ultimately, Lewis asks us to “[c]ontinue to build union between movements stretching across the globe because we must put away our willingness to profit from the exploitation of others.”

Next Steps

  • Consider meditating, free-writing, dreaming, making art about, or otherwise contemplating the grace of Lewis’s parting words:

When historians pick up their pens to write the story of the 21st century, let them say that it was your generation who laid down the heavy burdens of hate at last and that peace finally triumphed over violence, aggression and war. So I say to you, walk with the wind, brothers and sisters, and let the spirit of peace and the power of everlasting love be your guide.

Which words move you the most?  For you, what does it mean to “walk with the wind”?  What does the spirit of peace and the power of everlasting love guide you to do now?

  • A concept well-lived by Lewis was “love in action,” which was the subject of this beautiful “On Being” interview of Lewis by Krista Tippett. I recommend it for inspiration and refreshment; each time I listen to it I notice something new and important about leadership, purpose and service.
  • Note to my readers: Thank you for all of the excellent leadership you are persisting to offer in the pandemic, in the anti-racism movement, and in your organizations, communities and families. In homage to John Lewis, here is my heartfelt leadership wish for you: Love is good trouble.  May you get into plenty of it.
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