Tag Archives: Leadership Development

Who are you?

Last week Lillian Brummet for interviewed me for her Conscious Discussions radio show.  The topic of our conversation was Overcoming Conflict and Challenges, and I thus got the opportunity to talk about all my books including Thriving Through Tough Times: Eight Cross-Cultural Strategies to Navigate Life’s Ordeals.

Lillian was a knowledgeable interviewer and has a trick of calling for more authenticity from her guests; she began with a seemingly simple question, “Deidre, who are you?”

Paraphrasing Lillian, she asked, “When you meet the eyes of that lady in the mirror – who is “Deidre” really? Share information about who you are as a person – outside of what you do or the job or the training you have …”

Hungry birdChallenging questions send my brain searching for analogies. With this query I landed on one found in the Hindu Upanishads. Each person can be compared to two golden birds sitting on a single branch. One bird eats the fruits from the tree or engages in life. The other, what some would call the Self, just watches.

So who is Deidre? Which bird?

I could tell Lillian pretty easily about the hungry bird and shared some of “my” preferences, personality quirks and passions. The hungry bird gets bouncy around new ideas, loves to ski, speak Spanish and backpack and also has a habit of saying “yes” a bit too often.

But what of the other bird?  I was flummoxed on how to introduce her. I can forget the watching bird exists, but she is as critical as the Deidre that shows up in the world.

From a leadership perspective, our watching birds provide us the wider view.  They are the ones who notice that “we” are angry, depressed, or making a mistake. Leadership guru Ronald Heifetz describes the watching birds as the critical ability to get on the balcony and observe while our hungry birds are dancing around the floor.

Spiritual traditions have long advised that we connect often to our watching birds. Both the ancient traditions and modern leadership theory suggest that we should cultivate this relationship daily. If we can stop to clear away thoughts and just watch quietly, we can foster a better understanding of this witness self.  I don’t think I can explain who she is; sorry Lillian! However, sitting quietly reminds me to listen to my watching bird’s observations and strengthens my ability to step back from stressful situations, notice what is occurring and pause before I respond.

And, so I pose to you Lillian’s simple question, “Who are you?”

Remembering our Roots

A mere thirty years ago, I spent a semester at El Tecnológico de Monterrey as an exchange student. I lived in the dorm with a wonderful roommate from Chihuahua, watched telenovelas (Mexican soap operas) and even was a college athlete. “El Tec” was probably one of the few locations in North America where the coach wouldn’t double over in giggles while clocking my splits. They needed another female willing to run the 3K event back then so I fit the bill!

El Tecnológico en Torreón

This past weekend, I reran this memory lane while getting to teach dialogue to Tec students in the town of Torreón during their annual leadership conference. I was transported back as I overheard students talking of movies and majors and hearing cheers as students represented proudly their respective states. I basked in typically fabulous Mexican hospitality and was young again.

But all was not the same. My husband will not be pleased to know that as I jogged around campus for old times sake while black-clad police men with machine guns watched me and fellow runners from a nearby hospital rooftop. We learned that a gang-related altercation had criminals in recovering in that building and a dozen police, some in face masks, were stationed there on high alert. And Monterrey of the state Nuevo Leon, a once sleepy town where I safely ran in its surrounding hills with my fellow track mates, is now nicknamed “Monterror de Nuevo Miedo (Fear).”

While waiting for buses loaded with 130+ students in the vineyard-rich town of Parras, I stared out a car window at a lush grove surrounded by a concrete wall. Suddenly a single thirty-foot tall tree you see on the corner in the photo below began to quickly shake making the leaves blur. Is there a wind storm? No, it was completely calm and just one tree moved. Earthquake? That didn’t make sense, and I felt that disorienting feeling that came on most clearly when I watched the smoke coming out of the World Trade Tower after the first plane had entered. I couldn’t find a contextual framework. “Can not process…can not process,” my brain stuttered watching that tree.

Trees in Parras

A fellow passenger came to my aid – “That’s a nut tree. To harvest nuts, they have attached a band around the tree’s base, attach a motor that shakes the fruit free.”

The tree incident became a metaphor through the weekend. As we dialogued informally and with the students in groups, we all seemed to be wrestling with how the country could have been shaken so quickly and thoroughly. I heard stories of friends who now dive under tables in restaurants when hearing loud noises. 19 and 20 year olds lamented how children now can’t play outside as they had. This is not the Mexico of my young adulthood, or even the one I last visited five years ago.

Like my fellow car mate who gave me a nut harvest tutorial, leaders often appear to reorient us. They can provide a great service as they provide a greater context. However, these are vulnerable times when we are hungry for answers and thus willing to abdicate personal agency – e.g. post WWI Germany and Hitler’s success.

The leadership’s responsibility is at its heaviest when called to reorient others, whatever the circumstances. We must consider in these circumstances, how can I be careful with my communications when in care of another’s reality? Are the statistics I am using are truly facts? Is my answer empowering or enslaving another?

Dialogue in action

At the end of the conference, we listened to a well-known Mexican political analyst Dr. Denise Dresser. I hear “call to action” speeches often as a professor and consultant, and hers was one of the best I have witnessed.

As she “called things by their true names,” she described a country controlled by monopolies and oligopolies. She provided data on the lack of consumer choice in basic areas of phone, energy, food and media. The facts were bleak and at times overwhelming.

After her compelling painting of Mexico’s present, Dr. Dresser had a choice. Once described, Dresser had the opportunity to call forth more fear and hopelessness and for us to follow her advice. But instead, she took a positive assets-based approach and used three leadership techniques. (You can read an article similar to the given presentation here)

1) Share what is workingDresser reminded her audience of the enduring Mexican culture is with a litany of its unique gifts. This is a country of riches that are not just found in natural resources. She had me at “los libros de Elena Poniatowska” and “mangos con chile,” and, teary with nostalgia by “visiting any town’s central plaza on a Sunday afternoon.” Mexico snuggled into a corner of my heart when I was a teenager and has never left.

2) Articulate an empowering vision – In a call to action, Dresser developed a future of possibility. She spoke of Mexico containing options for both a consumer and the voter. Dresser then shared how the government is paid for by the people and each can call for transparency and accountability.

3) Believe in the Whole — When asked why she didn’t run for office, Dr. Dresser, who preferred to be called Denise, responded she wanted to stand at the side of the people. She didn’t want to leave that position, and encouraged us to look for creative solutions to resolve these issues. She believes in the whole. The organizers of the Tec leadership conference mirrored this belief as they trained the students in dialogue. They then encouraged the  participants to create circles of interested students across the country to consider deeply the tough issues confronting not only Mexico but also the world.

I left Mexico heartened by those I met and the dialogue I witnessed. These are tough times, but after meeting the students and staff, these are also outstanding individuals empowered to look for solutions. It was a call for me to keep asking: How are my words stopping fear’s motor and reminding others of their healthy roots? How can I keep aligning with the best and the greater whole to bring innovative solutions into form? And to keep cheering…Go Tec!

 

TEDxBozeman Video is Available

Per your many requests, please find my March 23rd Tedx Talk below! It is also available on YouTube under the Tedx Channel at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GEAzWD3038Y .

Thank you for your kind and enduring support, Deidre

Are You Willing to Be Seen?

At the end of each semester I accept invitations to visit student clubs and selected writing classes to share about our leadership offerings at MSU. During my leadership course pitch I like to ask, “What do you think of when I say someone is a leader?” Responses usually include, “She’s confident,” “a great public speaker,” or “charismatic.” As I have written earlier, I like to add that I think a leader is anyone who wants to help. In my view, if we care about the world, we’ve all got a position in the leadership game.

Lately, I realized I have yet to hear students throw out that a leader is willing to be seen. It seems that a willingness to show up as “the decider” when times get tough, or to be marketed as a company asset should be added to my leadership traits list.

For some, being seen may be why leadership appears fun. At the helm of a new idea or initiative we get to be its poster child. “Isn’t she brave and wonderful?” can be a seductive phrase. Others admire us and acknowledge our gifts. However, this can be a dangerous pursuit if we are in the leadership position only for the praise it might engender.

A couple of years ago, I was able to speak personally with Jane Goodall who models for me a solid willingness to be seen for the greater good. We had about twenty minutes before she needed to stand up (she actually chose to stand on a chair so all could see her!) and speak to a gathered crowd of about 100 on a local eco-preserve.  As we chatted about her Bozeman visit and the beautiful view from the home in which we stood, Jane remarked how delightful it is that when she appears at events animals are at their best and the weather is wonderful. She went on to tell me a story about giving a short sermon at Grace Cathedral in San Francisco on the annual “Blessing of the Animals” Sunday. She recounted how the church was filled with dogs, cats, birds and other pets that initially were “talking,” as pets like to do. When she got up to speak, the animals all shut up and remained quiet throughout her speech.  I had heard a similar story from someone who had traveled with Jane to Baja California years before to watch whales. In that case, a huge school of dolphins suddenly appeared and surrounded Jane’s boat for a prolonged visit.

Jane’s ability to captivate animals was not only a neat fun fact, but I was also struck that it was Jane who telling me the story. She seemed completely comfortable and seemed to convey that the “I” that she was speaking of was part of something bigger, doing what “it” was supposed to be doing.  There was no ego engagement and she seemed as fascinated as I was by this capacity.

Leadership entails a willingness to play the role for all its worth. Be it a team captain or spokeswoman for those living beings who can’t speak Human. Jane seem to have a healthy detachment from the “I” that is me, but somehow not.

For my part, I find that I am most willing to be seen when I am called to support greater compassion and others fulfilling their potential. If I am engaging in what feels like my work, I am more interested and able to stand in that tricky limelight.

Before I was to teach my first graduate level course on resolving conflict close to a decade ago, I went to a wise long-time teacher for advice. I shared my nervousness and fears and she simply asked if I knew what I was teaching to be true. I said I did and she responded, “trust in the material and you’ll do fine.”   This advice continues to serve me well.

The power of passion

I have to share a recent Bozeman Chronicle article on the MSU leadership students with whom I have worked over the past semester.

11 students presented how they hope to make a difference in their homes and communities. And the audience was transfixed.

Why?

I posit it was because each student had found the magic balance of conveying both a plan and passion. They had done their research AND shared what makes them excited to get up in the morning. Again, it makes me a believer in the magic formula of leadership being equal parts head and heart. Draw me in with your enthusiasm, then keep me on your team with clear communication, mutual respect and scholarship.  These students reminded me why this is my new end-of-the-semester addiction!

I want to add a related example on the power of passion before closing. Here’s the introductory paragraph I sent the Chronicle detailing my impressions of the MSU Leadership Foundations program before this event:

“Our Leadership Foundations students inspire me to have sincere hope in the future. As the instructors, Dave Meldahl and I challenge these students at the beginning of the semester to consider how they want to help, which is our broadest definition of leadership. How they rise to our challenge! In the past year, I have watched our Leadership Fellows start a non-profit to help at risk kids, volunteer as our Montana Student Regent, take the helms of two fraternities and expand a school in Tanzania. During these presentations the students commit to action and I have been consistently impressed with how they are then following through. It is an honor to be part of the Leadership Fellows program and to support these students’ success.”

Now…check out which of my quotes was chosen for the article!

I wish you all a wonderful and heart-filled holiday season.