Tag Archives: leadership

The Opposite of Beauty is Indifference

As a continuing theme of this blog, I want to share the work of two artists who bring both beauty from and insight about our oceans’ treasures. Richard and Judy Lang have collected plastic debris since 1999 from 1000 yards of Kehoe Beach in Point Reyes National Seashore and create museum-worthy art.

In one year they easily gather 4000 pounds of plastic. Meanwhile, as Judith says, “We are not cleaning the beach, we are curating the beach,” as they select only plastic in the colors and shapes for which they are searching. What could be a depressing or overwhelming issue to face, the Langs appear to address it with interest and careful observation.  “The opposite of beauty is really not ugliness,” says Richard, “The opposite of beauty is indifference. We are trying not to be indifferent about this and about the world.”

Please enjoy another example of artists as leaders:

Wind Powered Legacies

I am an avid fan of “off the wall” art. I’d like to share an example with you from the Dutch artist Theo Jansen. I hope you enjoy the video below and that it inspires you to consider what are the legacies that will continue after you are gone. What are you nurturing today, as Mr. Jansen does his creatures, that might transcend?

Check out lifebyme.com

A few months ago, I was asked to write an essay for www.lifebyme.com and today it is being featured on their home page! I hope you check out “Paradox” and find it of interest.

As always, thank you for your support. Today, I get to practice being seen…

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.

Do or D.I.E.

A couple of weeks ago, I had the opportunity to share leadership skills with nineteen international English teachers who are visiting on a State Department fellowship. Part of the program includes internships in our area schools. In my workshop we were uncovering the culture of a local high school.

Teacher after teacher shared surprises the school had held in their first visit. “The hallways are so quiet,” “Do you know that everyone chews gum, even the teachers?” and “Your students eat in during class!”

Some of this was news to this mother of past and present high school students, and it begged a brief tutorial on the D.I.E. cultural model as we all grappled with what all this information meant. Tracking the history of D.I.E., or the Describe, Interpret and Evaluate model, it appears that it was originally posited as an approach to art criticism. Briefly this is a 3 to 4-staged strategy where you notice:

  • What are you seeing (Describe),
  • What does it make you think (Interpret) and
  • What are you then concluding and do you know it to be true (Evaluate and/or Theorize)?

Recently, this model has been applied to foster intercultural sensitivity. Example,  A man is eating lunch using his fingers instead of cutlery, chewing with his mouth open and belching loudly (Describing the scene). I might think, “I wonder if he is American?” or “Does he know that this behavior is culturally off here?” or “That is definitely not attractive by American standards.” I might then start making assumptions about the individual and his cultural competencies.

Checking my work while I then evaluate my assumptions and interpretation of the situation wakes me up to where I am overlaying my own cultural frameworks and stereotypes and where I might be completely wrong.

So, returning to the international teacher cohort, after describing their visits, we then noticed assumptions were we each making on chewing gum or eating in the classrooms. Could we draw the conclusion that these unique activities created quieter hallways? Did it make better or worse students? The exercise drove home for me once more how quickly I zip from description right into interpretation and forget to evaluate too often.

Case in point. I sat down to dinner near Valentine’s day with friends and posed a timely icebreaking question, “What is something that you love?”  A reply included a description of how fortunate one of us felt to be supporting his organization through bankruptcy and negotiations with creditors. “I feel really lucky to get to engage in this level of problem solving,” he added. If I had described to you all on his plate, I wonder if your interpretation might be closer to my “wow, that sure sounds miserable.”  Meanwhile, his interpretation of the situation has a highlight of my evening. I loved seeing another modeling the possibility in seeing challenges or conflicts as gifts. I also loved how he proved my lack of “die” reasoning “dead” wrong.

A practice session for breaking down my thought processes into 3 distinct stages came in the form of taking my daughter on some eastern college visits over Presidents’ Day weekend. We’d arrive at a school and how quickly I noticed that I wanted to decide if it would be good/bad for her! Maybe it was because I was woefully underdressed for the humid cold, but I was a hindrance to my daughter’s experience anytime I started to jump to conclusions. So instead, I tried to use the hour-long tours around campus to notice details instead. What was fascinating is, when I was paying attention, how much description would be devoted not to faculty capabilities or dorm room dimensions, but to my own emotional landscape as I practiced visualizing our youngest daughter off at university.

So, I pass along this as a leadership exercise for us all to practice this week. Pick an attention grabbing situation and:

  • Describe the scene
  • What assumptions are making, what thoughts are arising?
  • Evaluate — what can you guarantee from your assessment might be true? Could I assess this completely differently?

Just as we couldn’t determine the influence of gum chewing or I couldn’t suss out if a college was truly right for my daughter, we have some room to also choose our interpretations.  Watching the inspirational effects of my friend choosing to see turmoil at work as a fascinating opportunity, perhaps since we don’t know, shall we add the brave assumption of “this is great,” while breaking down our experience? As I interpret all of this, it seems worth a try!