Wednesday, 6 June 2012


With gratitude to Peter Senge, who talks often about decentralizing the role of leadership in order to enhance the capacity of all people to work toward healthier human systems, I offer these observations, insights and experiences.

As leaders, we are acutely aware of trying to meet the needs of multiple constituencies – directors, associates, colleagues, employees, customers, and others in the larger community.   We have to learn how to receive, with a measure of appropriate grace and humility, invitations, requests, suggestions, recommendations, ideas, information, bad news, and demands.  The challenge is to attend to the smallest of details while remaining connected to a larger vision, mission and purpose and representing the organization as the main spokesperson, cheerleader, sage and guide.  And, we must not let any of the roles we perform go to our head and allow us to think that we know all the answers.  In fact, it’s very good if we can ask the right questions and help people clarify their own intentions and goals and be sure that we know our own.

I remarked and wrote recently that I found no particular virtue in being busy and that I often marvel at how people seem to measure their effectiveness by how full their calendars are.  What is essential for a leader, according to Senge is “to learn how to manage the precious resource of paying attention.”  I believe that what he means by that is that before venturing out and engaging all those other people, places and events, the leader needs to venture inside, and listen, to pay attention and be still.   It is here where we will find the resources and possibilities that will enable and empower us to reach out and connect with those others.

When we pay careful attention to our selves, to others, to the legitimate and genuine needs around us, we are in a much better condition and position to challenge and resist the status quo, to take creative and intelligent risks, and to encourage and support others.
This means we must carve out the time and place for that reflection, contemplation and renewal, be it solo or with a group of like-minded folks with similar needs and priorities.
When we trust our own personal core beliefs and values, our intuition and senses, and our inner teacher, we can learn how to deepen our connections to what matters most.

We are confronted and confounded by many choices every day, not only for this day or that but for the weeks and months ahead.  Do we pay attention and give time and energy to every hangnail that comes in the door or across our desk?  Do we allow our days, or our lives, to become fragmented by everyone else’s concerns, or can we find a way to be in touch with a larger purpose, still attend to the details, and communicate a larger concern?  Helping others frame their work and give them a larger context could be a great service, not only to them but to those others whom they serve as well.

Living close to the land in northern New Mexico, I continue to learn a lot about the uniqueness of creation.  Every animal, stream, forest, and tree is unique.  No two animals or trees or branches or streams are the same.  As human beings, we are expressions of that same creation and just as those expressions are essential parts of the eco-system, we can show our uniqueness too.  We would not ever think of a tree or a bush as being lost, or  confused, so why should we be any different?  We may forget from time to time or we may even get lost on occasion but if we remember who we are and what we are about, and from whence we have come, we can find our way back.  We can let go of the “delusion of separateness” so that we can learn to express ourselves in a way that is more connected to our nature.  We must let our own creation find us and in so doing live and work more completely, more congruently.

I can assure you that if we participate in this exercise, besides knowing of our vulnerability and imperfection, we will come to our rightful place in the world and be very much at home with ourselves. For many of us it has been a continual journey of inner exploration and discovery in order to be somewhat useful for outer exploration and discovery.  None of us can know the end from what was begun, thus we have to trust the evolving and unfolding while perhaps nurturing it along the way.  We can only contribute to the extent that we have developed the inner resources to do so.  Therefore it makes such great good sense to find the place, take the time and pay attention to the development of the inner world of being.

It is here that we will know not only what we can do, but more importantly, who we are.
When we discover our authentic selves, we can express the uniqueness that is ours and ours alone, and we will then be able to fulfill the imperative from the Oracle of Delphi of Know Thyself.   Equipped with such knowledge we are then prepared to know others in the context of meaningful, productive relationships.  And that is what makes all the

Friday, 1 June 2012


Joe Nathan writes a regular column and I respond from time to time.  I've known Joe for almost 20 years.  He started the first charter school in the United States in Minnesota in 1992 and is now the Director of the Center for School Change at Macalaster College.  He and I are often on the same wavelength and here's a recent exchange with part of Joe's column to begin.

" Somewhere between Marina Keegan, friends and Bret Stephens, there’s something worth saying to graduates.  While I’m not yet sure what I’ll tell the Higher Ground Academy graduates and their families this weekend, here’s what I’m thinking.

Part of this is influenced by Marina Keegan.  Last month this 22-year- old graduated from Yale.  A fine writer, campus activist, and person in love, she already had a great job lined up at the New Yorker magazine.

In a recent column for the Yale News, she wrote, “I’m scared of losing this web we’re in. This elusive, indefinable, opposite of loneliness…But let us get one thing straight: the best years of our lives are not behind us….We’re so young. We’re so young. We’re 22 years old. We have so much time.”

She concluded, “We’re in this together, 2012. Let’s make something happen to this world.”

Keegan was right about a lot.  But she did not have “so much time.”  Five days after graduating, she died in a car crash.   She was wearing a seat belt.

As I read her words, I wept.  I cried for her, her family, and for the good that she probably would have done.  Perhaps in death, she will help others."

Her final essay is here:

Good thoughts, all, and I share your grief at losing someone like Marina Keegan and so many others who, it would seem to us and our limited judgment, leave us prematurely before they were able to share more of who they were.  That’s why I don’t hold out much for “the best is yet to come” and I’ll tell you why.  All that we know that we have for sure is this moment, perhaps today and even the rest of today can be uncertain, for life is fragile, unpredictable and can be extinguished in a heartbeat, so to speak.  However, we don’t live on the edge of that.  We live with hope.

I interviewed hundreds of high school students across the country and most of them were living for tomorrow, or the future, and getting ready for what is next.  As I pursued those conversations, it seemed that so much of what they were thinking about and doing was future-oriented whether going to college, getting a job, starting a family, buying a house, making money, retiring early, etc, pursuing the American Dream.  When I said to them that it seemed to me they were going to spend most of their life getting ready to die they looked and sounded shocked.  Well, I said, seems like you’re always getting ready for whatever is next.

I asked how about living fully in the present?  Give all that you can today, this week, this month, this year, to this work that you’re doing now and live much more in the here and now, how about that?  Hmmm, new concept to many!  We all know kids like Marina - talented, gifted and who leave their mark in one way or another.  We’re grateful to them, to their families and their teachers for what they have contributed, for however long they’re with us.