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There Is Much To Learn From Saint Patrick

Statue of St. Patrick in Aughagower, County Mayo

Statue of St. Patrick in Aughagower, County Mayo (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

You don’t have to be Catholic to admire and appreciate the life of St. Patrick – the Patron Saint of Ireland.  He was born more than 1,600 years ago but his memory still lives on.  It certainly doesn’t hurt that his holiday is often a day of much fanfare and celebration for people of Irish background.  Saint Patrick himself was known to enjoy a drink or two.  However the celebratory aspect of the day should not overshadow the remarkable life and good works of the man.

As a teenager of wealth and privilege he was kidnapped and taken from his adopted home of Scotland (his parents were originally from Rome) bought to Ireland and sold into slavery.  At the age of 20 he escaped his bondage and found his way back home only to volunteer to return again to Ireland in his 30s as an ordained priest on a missionary quest. He spent the remainder of his life spreading his beliefs throughout the country and converting people from all walks of life.  It’s worth noting that his journey was not an easy one and he was often imprisoned and beaten because of the courage of his convictions and success of his work.

There is much to learn from the life of Saint Patrick including the following:

  • No matter what happens to you don’t forsake hope or allow yourself to be fully defined by your adverse circumstances;
  • A life of privilege is meaningless unless you can anchor it to something more profound and “bigger” than yourself;
  • Committing yourself to a cause you believe in is not for the feint of heart and requires courage and persistence;
  • You can accomplish great things in life if you truly believe in what you are doing and your values align with your work;
  • Confront your fears head on and grow because of (not in spite of)  your bad experiences;
  • Speak out when you see and injustice and help others whenever you can (even if there is a price to pay for this behavior);
  • A life of significance is the result of diligent daily effort.

To my knowledge Saint Patrick was never officially canonized by the Vatican but he is still on the list of saints.  Sometimes a life’s work stands on its own.  If and when you raise a glass in toast this weekend, I encourage to consider toasting Saint Patrick.  He was a special man who accomplished great things despite many difficulties and hardships.  He put the welfare of others ahead of his own and literally was the spark that transformed the religious faith of a nation.

Leadership Thought #465 – Everyone Is A Critic

When you lead others, everyone is a critic to some degree.  It’s next to impossible to be fully aligned with another person 100% of the time.  As a leader, knowing this, you can’t fall into the trap of listening to every dissenting voice. The path to mediocrity is littered with individuals who gave up their leadership power unnecessarily and allowed themselves to be unduly influenced by the opinions of others.  This doesn’t mean you avoid soliciting feedback, quite the contrary, but you need to be able to filter this feedback and trust your own judgment.  The world looks much different when you are actually accountable for your decisions.  It’s easy to be an expert when you don’t have to deal with the consequences of your actions.

You can’t browse the internet, pick-up a newspaper, watch TV or listen to radio without being bombarded by the opinions of so called experts.  In an office environment, you can multiply this by the number of one-off conversations that take place during the course of any given day.   In my line of work, I’ve encountered many middle managers, stuck in their careers, who often believe they are the brightest person in the room.   While they may in fact be highly intelligent (not always the case), they often lack the true courage of their convictions.  It is much easier to be an expert on the sidelines or in the stands than run the risk of actually competing on the field.  It takes minimal energy to snipe behind someone’s back as opposed to thoughtfully advocating for your position and effectively dealing with alternative points of view.

This morning I listened or read many different opinions on how President Obama should deal with Russia’s incursion into the Crimea.  Of course, many of these people aren’t foreign policy experts or have any real inside understanding of the current geopolitical power dynamics involved.  Have you every noticed that most talking heads haven’t actually ever run anything or achieved any significant level of significant professional accomplishment in the field they are commenting on?  They often stalled within the system they are now commenting on.  Even worse are the journalists/media personalities who wax and wane on every topic as they are actually qualified to do so.  They never miss an opportunity to stir up discontent and/or tell us everything wrong with what the leader or institution in question is doing.  Rarely, if ever, do they provide a thoughtful or realistic alternative.  If you are not accountable you can say anything.  We, the public, love this because it validates our own predisposition to form strong opinions without the facts or a selective understanding of only the facts that support our own often ideological position.  Thinking before acting is hard work and many of us prefer shortcuts instead.

Don’t get me wrong; some level of criticism is healthy.  No one is above reproach especially in a free and democratic society.  Weak leaders crush dissent.  They feel threatened when someone disagrees with them.  Just look at Putin. To confuse his weakness with strength is a mistake.  Leaders should welcome different opinions and perspectives. Feedback is essential for innovation and growth.  However, leaders also need to be able to separate the good ideas from the bad ones; the informed thoughts from the misinformed ones; those positions that have the best interest of the organization/institution at heart versus those are personally motivated.  Making the right decision isn’t always easy.  Standing your ground in the face of opposition will test your professional mettle.  Everyone is a critic.  But also remember, that only a much smaller number of us ever risk the criticism in the first place.

Thomas Edison Quotes To Celebrate His Birthday 167 Years Ago Today

Our greatest weakness lies in giving up. The most certain way to succeed is always to try just one more time.

 Opportunity is missed by most people because it is dressed in overalls and looks like work.

“Many of life’s failures are people who did not realize how close they were to success when they gave up.

 I have not failed. I’ve just found 10,000 ways that won’t work.

 Restlessness is discontent and discontent is the first necessity of progress. Show me a thoroughly satisfied man and I will show you a failure.

 “Hell, there are no rules here – we’re trying to accomplish something.”

Be courageous. I have seen many depressions in business. Always America has emerged from these stronger and more prosperous. Be brave as your fathers before you. Have faith! Go forward!

 What you are will show in what you do.

 Your worth consists in what you are and not in what you have.

 

Excerpts From The Road Less Traveled

Cover of "The Road Less Traveled"

Cover of The Road Less Traveled

A while back a colleague’s comments encouraged me to revisit the book, The Road Less Traveled, by M. Scott Peck.  I am very glad this happened because it resonated much differently with me twenty years later.  I’ve decided to end the year sharing some excerpts from the book which I have found especially enlightening and helpful:

“Life is difficult…This is a great truth, one of the greatest truths.  It is a great truth because once we truly see the truth, we transcend it.  Once we truly know that life is difficult – once we truly understand and accept it – then life is no longer difficult.  Because once it is accepted, the fact that life is difficult no longer matters.”

“What makes life difficult is that the process of confronting and solving problems is a painful one…Yet it is in the whole process of meeting and solving problems that life has its meaning…It is through the pain of confronting and resolving our problems that we learn.”

“…when children know they are valued, when they truly feel valued in the deepest parts of themselves, then they feel valuable…the feeling of being valuable is essential to mental health and is the cornerstone of self-discipline…when one considers oneself valuable one will take care of oneself in all ways that are necessary. Self discipline is self-caring.”

“We must accept responsibility for a problem before we can solve it. We cannot solve a problem by saying, “It is not my problem.” We cannot solve a problem by hoping that someone else will solve it for us. I can solve a problem only when I say “This is my problem and it’s up to me to solve it.  But many, so many, seek to avoid the pain of their problems by saying to themselves: “This problem was caused me by other people, or by social circumstances beyond my control, and therefore it is up to other people or society to solve the problems for me.”

“…the problem of distinguishing what we are and what we are not responsible for in this life is one of the greatest problems of human existence; for the entirety of our lives we must continually assess and reassess where our responsibilities lie in the ever-changing course of events.”

“Frequently our choices lie between the lesser of two evils, but it is still within our power to make these choices…there are indeed oppressive forces at work within the world.  We have, however, the freedom to choose every step of the manner in which we are going to respond to and deal with these forces.”

“What happens when one has striven long and hard to develop a working view of the world, a seemingly useful workable map, and then is confronted with new information suggesting that view is wrong and the map needs to be largely redrawn?  The painful effort required seems frightening almost overwhelming. What we do more often than not, and usually unconsciously, is to ignore new information…Rather than try and change the map, an individual may try to destroy the new reality.  Sadly, such a person may expend much more energy ultimately in defending an outmoded view of the world than would have been required to revise and correct it in the first place.”

“The life of wisdom must be a life of contemplation combined with action.”

“The only way that we can be certain that our map of reality is valid is to expose it to the criticism and challenge of other map makers.”

“The more honest one is, the easier it is to continue being honest, just as the more lies one had told, the more necessary it is to lie again. By their openness, people dedicated to the truth live in the open, and through the exercise of their courage to live in the open, they become free from fear.”

“Mature mental health demands, an extraordinary capacity to flexibly strike and continually restrike a delicate balance between conflicting needs, goals, duties, responsibilities, directions, etc.  The essence of this discipline of balancing is giving up… the giving up of personality traits, well established patterns of behavior, ideologies, and even whole life systems.”

“It is in the giving up of self that human beings can find the most ecstatic and lasting, solid, durable joy of life.  And it is death that provides life with all of its meaning.  This is the “secret” wisdom of all religion.”

“It is also clear that the farther one travels on the journey of life, the more births and deaths one will experience, and therefore the more deaths – the more joy and more pain.”

“Love is the will to extend one’s self for the purpose of nurturing one’s own or another’s spiritual growth.”

“…we are incapable of loving another unless we love ourselves, just as we are incapable of teaching our children self-discipline unless we ourselves are self-disciplined. It is actually impossible to forsake our own spiritual development in favor of someone else’s.”

“Love is not effortless.  To the contrary, love is effortful.”

“Ego boundaries must be hardened before they can be softened. An identity must be established before it can be transcended. One must find one’s self before one can lose it…”

“Whenever we think of ourselves as doing something for someone else, we are in some way denying our own responsibility.  Whatever we do is done because we choose to do it, and we make that choice because it is the one that satisfies us the most.  Whatever we do for someone else we do because it fulfills a need we have.” 

“The principal form that the work of love takes is attention. When we love another we give him or her our attention; we attend to that person’s growth…By far the most common and important way in which we can exercise our attention is by listening.”

Courage is not the absence of fear; it is the making of action in spite of fear, the moving out against the resistance engendered by fear into the unknown and into the future.  On some level spiritual growth, and therefore love, always requires courage and involves risk.”

“Commitment is inherent in any genuinely loving relationship.  Anyone who is truly concerned for the spiritual growth of another knows, consciously or instinctively, that he or she can significantly foster that growth only through relationship of constancy.”

“Genuine love is self-replenishing.  The more I nurture the spiritual growth of others, the more my own spiritual growth is nurtured.”

“Great marriages cannot be constructed by individuals who are terrified by their basic aloneness, as so commonly is the case, and seek a merging in marriage.  Genuine love not only respects the individuality of the other  but actually seeks to cultivate it, even at the risk of separation or loss…”sacrifices” on behalf of the other result in equal or greater growth of the self.”

“.. all human interactions are opportunities either to learn or to teach (to give or receive therapy), and when they neither learn nor teach in an interaction they are passing up an opportunity.”

“To develop a religion or world view that is realistic – that is, conforms to the reality of the cosmos and our role in it, as best we can know that reality – we must constantly revise and extend our understanding to include new knowledge of the larger world.  We must constantly enlarge our frame of reference…”

“The path to holiness lies through questioning everything…”

“Many scientists simply do not look at the evidence of the reality of God.  They suffer from a kind of tunnel vision, a psychologically self-imposed psychological set of blinders which prevents them from turning their attention to the realm of the spirit.”

“A major and essential task in the process of one’s spiritual development is the continuous work of bringing one’s conscious self-concept into progressively greater congruence with reality…”

“…one of the reasons we fail to take full advantage of grace is that we are not fully aware of its presence – that is, we don’t find valuable things not sought for, because we fail to appreciate the value of the gift when it is given us…we consider such events unremarkable, and consequently we fail to take full advantage of them.”

“An individual’s body may undergo changes of the life cycle, but it does not evolve.  New physical patterns are not forged.  Decline of physical competence in old age is an inevitability.  Within an individual lifetime, however, the human spirit may evolve dramatically.  New patterns may be forged. Spiritual competence may increase (although it usually does not) until the moment of death in advanced old age.  Our lifetime offers unlimited opportunities for spiritual growth until the end.”

“When we grow, it is because we are working at it, and we are working at it because we love ourselves.  And it is through love that we elevate ourselves.  And it is through our love for others that we assist others to elevate themselves.  Love, the extension of the self, is the very rare act of evolution.  It is an evolution in progress.  The evolutionary force, present in all life, manifests itself in humankind as human love.  Among humanity love is the miraculous force that defies the natural law of entropy.”

“If we overcome laziness, all other impediments will be overcome.  If we don’t overcome laziness, none of the others will be hurdled.”

“A major form of laziness is fear…Much of our fear is fear of change in the status quo, a fear that we might lose what we have if we venture forth from where we are now.”

“Evil people hate the light because it reveals themselves to themselves.  They hate goodness because it reveals their badness; they hate love because it reveals their laziness.  They will destroy the light, the goodness, the love in order to avoid the pain of such self-awareness…evil is laziness carried to its ultimate, extraordinary extreme.”

“Most people most of the time make decisions with little awareness of what they are doing.  They take action with little understanding of their own motives and without beginning to know the ramifications of their choices…”

“Is it any better to do the right thing for the wrong reasons than the wrong thing for the right reasons?  We are often most in the dark when we are the most certain, and the most enlightened when we are the most confused.”

“We attempt to defend our consciousness, our awareness, against reality.  We do this by a variety of means which psychiatrists call defense mechanisms.  All of us employ such defenses, thereby limiting our awareness.  If in our laziness and fear of suffering we massively defend our awareness, then it will come to pass that our understanding of the world will bear little or no relation to reality.”

“The call to grace is a call to a life of effortful caring, to a life of service and whatever sacrifice seems required.  It is a call out of spiritual childhood into adulthood, a call to be a parent to mankind…”

“…the human race is in the midst of making an evolutionary leap. Whether or not we succeed in that leap is your personal responsibility.  And mine.  The universe, this stepping stone, has been laid down to prepare the way for us.  But we ourselves must step across it, one by one.  Through grace we are helped not to stumble and through grace we know that we are being welcomed.  What more can we ask?”

Happy Holidays 2013!

Clifton Mill in Clifton, Ohio is the site of t...

Clifton Mill in Clifton, Ohio is the site of this Christmas display with over 3.5 million lights. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Every year I have fun reading through holiday books looking for excerpts from writings that reflect my feelings about the season.  This is an especially poignant year for me given my father’s recent passing.  His birthday was actually Christmas day and it will be the first time we haven’t spoken on this day in my lifetime.  He always loved Christmastime and it has definitely worn off on me.  

My house has and always will always be decorated with lights in honor of my dad. It may be my imagination, but I feel that this has been the best year yet for decorations as I drive around and appreciate the individual creativity of so many homeowners.  It appears that people are in an especially festive mood this year and I know that dad is looking down and smiling on all of it.

Since 1944, “Ideals Christmas” has been a tradition in thousands of homes across the USA.  The book contains traditional poems that explore the meaning of the holiday and recall special times with family and friends.  I came across the following poem which resonated with me (Thanks Mable!):

The Message of Christmas Bells
By Mable Clare Thomas

Once more the bells of Christmas
Are ringing sweet and clear;
Once more our hearts are lifted up
And filled with hope and cheer,
For friendship knows no barriers
Of distance, time or space,
And loving thoughts can wing their way
To any clime or place.

Each year the message of the bells,
Over mountain, plain, or sea,
Reminds us love is born anew,
Steadfast, tender, strong, and true,
Wherever we may be.

I sincerely hope that you and your loved ones have a great week of celebration and friendship this year.  And, may the New Year bring you many blessings and much happiness!

Leadership Thought #457 – Eight Things You Can Do To End The Year On A High Note

Holiday Lights

Holiday Lights (Photo credit: ImageMD)

As we wind down another year, I thought it would be useful to share some best practices I have observed over the years by leaders who tend to end every year on a high note:

  1. Close as many big deals as you can before the Christmas vacation.  Redouble your efforts and offer incentives to get the deal done.  Put off tinkering with internal operational issues.  Nothing launches a new year better than a flurry of sales at the end of the previous one.  As a leader it makes you feel confident and secure;
  2. Personally reach out to your top 10 (or more) customers and thank them for their business.  Holiday cards and emails are a poor substitute for genuine relationship building;
  3. Say no to last minute unreasonable customer demands or at least negotiate more agreeable terms.  And, always walk away from a bad deal.  Some people, especially those who have somewhat one-dimensional lives will push just because they can.  It’s important to have professional boundaries and stick to them;
  4. Instead of procrastinating, have whatever difficult conversations you need to have and get them over with.  Don’t let the challenges of managing difficult people issues linger – they only get worse with time and occupy much needed mental bandwidth;
  5. Ensure you have a strong handle on your financial situation and make smart tax and cash flow decisions.  Don’t spend what you don’t have.  Do your best to avoid self-created financial crises;
  6. Spend the majority of your management time with your top performers making them feel appreciated and supported. No leader ever led an organization to greatness by getting distracted by his/her weakest links;
  7. Make sure there is an actual business/operational plan in place for the next year.  Hint: You shouldn’t be starting this just now.  It should have been months in the making.  Hit the ground running on January 2 and don’t look back;
  8. When you are spending time with family and friends during the holidays, be fully present in those moments.  Work will always be there when you get back.  If you execute on the previous seven actions and avoid unnecessary distractions, you should be in a good place personally to unwind, tend to close relationships, recharge your batteries, and count your blessings.

I have watched many a leader get stressed out in December and run around like a chicken with its head cut off.  Instead of focusing on the few things that actually matter, they try to get too much done in too little time.  There is too much stress and not enough enjoyment.  There are no business problems that took eleven months to create that will get resolved in one short month of work.  Do what you should doing to close out the year  in the most effective and efficient way possible and then focus on what truly is most important – your loved ones!

A Few Thoughts on Thanksgiving…

"Landing of the Pilgrims"

“Landing of the Pilgrims” (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

When you sit back and reflect on Thanksgiving there is much to learn from the events that led to its creation.  It is quite a testament to the power of the human spirit and our individual and collective capacity to accomplish great things especially when we work together.  When life is stripped down to its bare necessities you learn alot about your fellow human beings. While sadly, some people use survival as a rationale for poor behavior, history seems to vindicate that most of us try to do the right things even under the most adverse circumstances.  I’d like to offer a few observations about the genesis of the holiday:

First, the Pilgrims had to have considerable faith and courage to leave the relative comforts of their European homeland to take the long difficult journey across the ocean to an unknown world that would require considerable effort and great sacrifice just to make it inhabitable.  They were literally starting from nothing.  More than likely they knew that some of them wouldn’t survive the journey and that others wouldn’t last long upon their arrival.  Thank goodness for their pioneering spirit and willingness to risk everything in the hope of creating a better life for their families.  The spark of their pioneering efforts led to the creation of our great nation.

Second, instead of going their separate ways once they left the ships, they decided to form communities.  The basic premise being that working together towards a common goal everyone had a better chance of surviving.  When you combine and leverage the strengths of a group of individuals with a wide variety of skills and talents, everyone benefits.  I am sure there were a few who decided to go it alone (and probably suffered unnecessarily as a result), but for the most part they stuck together and forged a collective identity.  It’s amazing what can be accomplished when everyone is on the same page, working together with a win-win mindset.

Third, unlike later sad stories in our nation’s history, they were able to co-exist with the Native Indian population.  I imagine it must have been a bit disconcerting at first to meet people who looked, talked and acted so differently.  It would have been easy to fear them and take aggressive defensive action.  Moreover, the natives had every reason to fear the strange new people who showed up on their land and started forming a new different type of community.  However, somehow these two diverse populations managed to interact and help one another out.  Arguably, without the wisdom gleaned from the native population, the Pilgrims may not have made it through the first winter. Unfortunately, with time, this relationship eventually degraded for all too human reasons, but for a brief period it was a model of how to peacefully coexist.

Finally, the Pilgrims were people of devout faith who fled religious persecution in their homeland to pursue a life concordant with their spiritual values.  It would have been much easier to disavow their beliefs and go along with the status quo and stay home, but they weren’t wired that way.   Their faith was strong enough to embolden them to overcome any obstacle to ensure they were living in what they perceived to be the right way.  They pursued a higher ideal and were rewarded for their efforts. Our nation was built by people of strong faith who had the courage of their convictions. We should never forget this!

As we sit in our warm comfortable homes, eating too much food, watching football and planning Black Friday shopping excursions, we should pause and reflect on how the courageous actions of a relatively small group of people working together towards a common goal, driven by strong spiritual values, who risked everything to form a new and better life for their families while peacefully coexisting with people much different from them, helped form the foundation of our country.  History is full of examples of people who overcame great odds at significant personal expense to carve out a better future for those who followed behind them.  We should certainly count our many blessing this holiday season, however, we should also be grateful to this brave group of people who made it possible for us to be here in the first place.

Happy Thanksgiving!

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