Friday, 30 March 2012

The Challenge of Transition

I participated recently in a small group exercise in which we shared our challenges that we are facing currently.   I described how I was part of an organization that was expanding and growing and my personal intent was to decrease my activity to the point of a half-time commitment.  It's a small organization and I have been a significant part of it since its founding 14 years ago so that everyone's participation and commitment are critical to its success.

The feedback from the others in the group was enormously helpful as I continue to wrestle with the transition from full-time to part-time professional work.   One person said, "How long might you be comfortable living with the tension?  For example, in your experience, do these things tend to resolve themselves with a little patience?  And/or is there a willingness for the idea you have for your life to change if something unexpected is being called forth that you didn't anticipate?"  While I might have responded no, these things do not tend to resolve themselves what I focused on instead was my lack of patience, thus the lesson learned was take a breath, step back and realize it doesn't all have to be accomplished within the next two months.  Plans are just that and sometimes they might need an adjustment here and there.

Another person said "Fill your other hours (over the 20 you're willing to work) with those things you are excited to be able to now pursue and try to truly be just a consultant - distancing is an opportunity to appreciate."   Other responses included answer your own question objectively as if you were one of us and make a pro-con list of benefits and burdens of being either full time or part time.  I did not expect anyone to have the magic recipe or answer that would solve the transition equation but their responses were thoughtful and very helpful to me personally and professionally.  The exercise also demonstrated the tremendous value of feedback from others as a learning experience and what I learned has helped me take several more steps toward the desired goal.

Patience and Perseverance

I heard once that perseverance pays off, and I must add, eventually.  Thus we need to connect patience with perseverance and we have a much better chance of the payoff.  Herewith, an excerpt from Pierre Teilhard de Chardin.

We are, quite naturally,
impatient in everything to reach the end
without delay.
We should like to skip
the intermediate stages.
We are impatient of being
On the way to something unknown
something new,
And yet it is the law of all progress
that it is made by passing through
some stages of instability ---
And that it may take a very long time.

Your ideas mature gradually -
let them grow,
let them shape themselves,
without undue haste.
Don't try to force them on,
as though you could be today
what time (that is to say, grace and
circumstances acting
on your own good will)
will make you tomorrow.

......accept the anxiety of
feeling yourself in suspense and incomplete.

Tuesday, 20 March 2012


In the Northern Hemisphere on March 20, 2012, at 1:14 A.M. (EDT) Spring officially arrived on this part of the planet.  When I learned about the Southern Hemisphere many years ago, I wondered how the good people there connected Spring to Easter.  I am not sure I still understand it completely, but having been in the Southern Hemisphere recently, it seemed to me that the folks there don't worry about it all that much.  And the fact is that this March 20 is the autumnal equinox in the Southern Hemisphere.  So much for that!

We know that vernal refers to that which is fresh and young, like the new growth that occurs so much in evidence everywhere in nature.  As I look out on the nearby fields, I see new baby calves, lambs and the baby chicks are arriving soon on our own small acreage.  However, we didn't hatch them this year, we ordered them to be delivered by U.S. Mail!  Spring is a reaffirmation of hope and it's a time for planting seeds and welcoming new growth on all kinds of trees and plants.   It's saying good-bye to Winter and a entering a 3-month transition period to Summer.  Some of us remember the vigorous rituals of Spring housecleaning.  My mother washed all the curtains and hung them out on a stretcher to dry and the entire house was given a thorough cleaning, top to bottom, scrub a dub dub.  The place even smelled clean.

Equinox is Latin for "equal night" and refers to that time when daylight and night time are of equal proportions. At the equinoxes, the tilt of Earth relative to the Sun is zero, which means that Earth’s axis neither points toward nor away from the Sun. (However, the tilt of Earth relative to its plane of orbit, called the ecliptic plane, is always about 23.5 degrees.)  So much for that.  To try and make some kind of adjustment, we go through this rather silly exercise of trying to save a little more daylight by changing the clocks to have more light at the end of the day.  The history of Daylight Savings Time is interesting and illustrates our feeble attempts to manipulate time to our advantage. Since 2007, daylight saving time starts on the second Sunday of March and ends on the first Sunday of November, with all time changes taking place at 2:00 AM (0200) local time.

So what are we to make of this seasonal shift?  Perhaps Alexander Pope said it best:

Hope springs eternal in the human breast;
Man never Is, but always To be blest:
The soul, uneasy and confin'd from home,
Rests and expatiates in a life to come.

An Essay on Man, Epistle I, 1733 

Find your own special ways to celebrate Spring whether through ritual and planting, embracing new growth both external and internal, or simply stopping for awhile to observe all that is near and dear.  Then choose to participate in this annual renewal of hope, growth and the buds that signal flower and fruit.  We are all part of this wonder filled creation that we call Nature, thus it is that we are connected to that life-giving force that renews and regenerates.  As Robin Williams said, "Spring is nature's way of saying, let's party!"

Thursday, 15 March 2012


Personal sacrifice is a high price to pay for what you believe, what you do and who you are as a leader.   On Tuesday, March 6, 2012, Dale Regan, head of the Episcopal School of Jacksonville, was murdered in her office by a former teacher, disgruntled and disturbed by being dismissed earlier.  You can read about Dale here and there is a larger issue that concerned leaders would do well to address and it is this.

Violence in our culture has reached epidemic proportions and no one, it seems, is able to get a handle on how to address and mitigate the misery and suffering that are the result of such acts of terrorism.  They are nothing less than heinous acts of depravity against our humanity, as individuals, as communities, families and even against one's self.  Since the Columbine massacre in April of 1999 there have been over 120 school shootings in the United States. 

The statistics are all recorded for anyone to see such as 142 murders in 2010 in New Mexico where I live, with a population of only 2 million people.  That was down from 189 the year before.  In California the number of homicides in 2010 was 1,809, down from 1,970 in 2009.  Let's hope the trend continues downward.   Homicides  (over 16,000 in the U.S. in 2008) do not include suicides and in 2008 there were over 34,000 suicides nationwide.  That alone is an epidemic and if 34,000 people died in one year of some disease in this country the Center for Disease Control would be all over it.  Maybe there should be a Center for Self-Control.

Where does it begin and how can we understand some of the root causes that, as responsible leaders, we might address?  In 1973, I participated in a university research project that studied violence in children's television programs and how it affected their behavior.  It was clear from that carefully conducted study that aggressive behavior in children increased significantly as a result of such programming.  Consider the ensuing 37 years and what has happened in our culture and in our society that may immunize us against violent behaviors. What do you make of our acceptance of costly and ongoing wars that we justify by identifying an enemy so that we can blast them into oblivion and sacrifice our own young men and women in the process?  The debate about whether the violence in movies, video games, and other visuals has any negative effect on young people and adults continues.
Suffice to say here that the U.S. Army uses a video very similar to some of the electronic games to train soldiers to be desensitized against their feelings about killing another person.

Schools have begun to take bullying more seriously, looking for ways to prevent it as well as responding strongly when it happens.  Concerned students are stepping forward to take an active role with their peers who may feel isolated and marginalized.  Schools and community leaders are helping parents find more creative and productive ways to help children participate in positive and constructive activities.  Service learning programs are on the increase that show young people the value of working together to improve the living conditions of everyone whether through social service or community projects that range from protecting the environment to building a habitat.
Restoration projects demonstrate the value of preservation of our resources both natural and human. Mentoring programs connect young people with responsible adults in the larger community.  Working with the younger generation is where we must begin and the time is now.

The Effective and Efficient Leader

Leaders have an enormous array of expectations placed on them by a variety of types and kinds of people from Boards of Directors to employees.  How does one meet the needs of different constituencies and still have the time and energy for a personal life? Communicating with confidence and clarity, delegating wisely and being accessible are but a few strategies for effective leadership.  There are many more tactics available for those who want to work smarter, not harder and longer.

There seems to be a premium being placed on how busy one is, how full the calendar appears, how many meetings one attends, how much can be crammed into a day, week or month.  We've become adept at multi-tasking,
multi-use, multi-purpose, multi-function to the point where the multiplication of jobs and applications of energy make one both weary and wary of work as we once knew it.  Research shows it is also terribly inefficient and nearly as productive as some may want to believe.

Consider the difference between your work and your job.  Then look at some of the specific expectations top-level leaders and managers.  Remind yourself of the results of anxiety, stress and fatigue.  And finally, find some plausible alternatives, in addition to a genuine sabbatical, for renewal and regeneration of body, mind and spirit. 

Work is that which we commit ourselves to do using our talents, our skills our time and energy because that's what we love to do.  It's what we care about, it's what we are passionate about, it's what we believe and sometimes what we know from experience that makes a difference in the lives of other people.  Work is part of who we are, it's a privilege and a joy and it is not only what we do, but it is also part of our identity - CEO is much more than a title; Director of a division or Manager of a department is a lot more than directing and managing.

A job, on the other hand, is often what we have to do to get to our work.   A job is something that must be done in order to keep things straight - things like schedules, maintenance, reports, or things that aren't necessarily a priority for you but may well be for someone else.  It's possible for someone to dearly love creating reports or to really like making the place look great and that can be their work.  It might even be part of your work but one needs to be clear that it's nearly impossible to put the same high priority on more than ten or twelve things simultaneously.

Paper work, forms, regulations, all the "stuff" that also takes time, energy and skill often requires supervision and oversight if not your direct involvement.    You may think it's just semantics to separate job and work but it's one way of carving out that which we really like to do, look forward to doing and that which is more mundane and not necessarily the most exciting and rewarding part of what we do.  Ask yourself if you look forward to going to work.  Seldom do people say I am going to a job and yet we talk about job descriptions not work descriptions.
Nan Keohane, a former president of Wellesley,  said that the head of any organization has three big challenges.  I believe the same can be said for a division or department head or director as well.  One challenge is to solve problems, and I would add, anticipate them to the degree possible so that those problems do not escalate and become a crisis.

The second challenge is to make things happen, i.e. find the ways through planning and implementation to realize the stated goals and objectives and the third challenge is to take a stand.  That means making hard decisions and being able to make them stick.   Is there anything you do that doesn't fit into one of those three big categories?

As a CEO or director, you wear that identity wherever you are and you do so
with appropriate pride and confidence.  To be a CEO, a head, a director, a leader is something that is chosen and consciously pursued. It is not merely a response to an invitation to the dance.   When one chooses to be in the position of being responsible for results it comes as no surprise that everyone is watching and evaluating your performance. 

Establishing priorities, having a systematic organization that functions at a high level of efficiency and effectiveness – the well-oiled machine – and knowing who you are in your role along with how you communicate that status go a long way toward being able to meet the multiple demands and expectations that come along with the position.