Tag Archives: teaching

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.

The Global Techno Beat

During July,  I happily worked with Mongolian and Bhutanese monks, Middle Eastern business leaders, North African and Middle Eastern university student leaders and last but absolutely not least, 5 Iraqi high school students along with American peers. It was an incredible treat as I could soak up one of Montana’s best months while continually enriched by extraordinary conversation.

As foreign visitors visited Bozeman for leadership, civic engagement and conflict resolution training, I asked many of the participants some of my favorite closing questions before sending them on their way:

  • What have you learned here?
  • What are your next steps?
  • What have you appreciated during your time as a group?

Not easy questions for participants who have been drinking from a fire hose of lectures, field trips and project development skills for 8 to 10 hours a day.  For example, the Tributary Fund’s Mongolian and Bhutanese delegation not only attended multiple leadership and environmental courses in Bozeman, but also traveled south to the Teton Science School in Jackson, WY and then to northern Montana to the Garden of 1,000 Buddhas in Arlee, over less than two weeks. It can be a challenge to integrate so much data in such a short period, especially through the filter of your second or third language.

Mongolian Delegation at the Garden of 1,000 Buddhas in Arlee

After an intense month with all these visitors, I got a taste of my own medicine. Last Tuesday, I posed these queries to 17 extraordinary university student leaders from the State Department Middle Eastern Partnership Initiative (MEPI) program. A bright young woman from Bahrain gently responded, “May we also ask, what you have learned from us?”

Running from meeting to workshop all month, I hadn’t been able to think about much other than lesson plans, preparing and did we have any milk left in the fridge!  I could suddenly relate to the blank stares I had received from some after hearing my closing queries. Hmmm, great question, what had I learned?

My favorite teachers remind that after major experiences, we are best served by giving ourselves time to integrate our experience. Systems theorists stress the importance of iterative learning – gathering new information, testing it out and then reflecting on what we have learned. Angeles Arrien posits that the seminal Taoist text on managing change, The Tao Te Ching, teaches that we must continually

  1. Gather information (seek/be dynamic), then
  2. Open ourselves to the results (be receptive) and last
  3. Integrate the results of the first two actions.

So, lots of new information came in this month.  I have tried to be open to receiving. Now, what needs to be better integrated?  With some initial thought, four themes are emerging to be considered from this summer’s work:

  1. Technology’s role in leadership
  2. How to balance connection and action
  3. How it is a rarely “an American issue” or “a Middle Eastern situation,” but that it’s usually  “a human being problem,” and
  4. The absolute impossibility of truly knowing another in the global age

Today I’ll tackle technology…

For a bit of background, I began my career at IBM as a programmer. In 1985, many on our team coded only in machine language (that’s ugly stuff).  I would knit waiting for my programs to compile and my compatriots at IBM and I were some of the first to have email in the country which IBM called VNET.  By 1989, I was the project manager for one of the first electronic medical record systems in the country. We used optical disks the size of large dinner platters, $3,000 scanners heavy as boat anchors and computers that required cooled raised floor rooms to house them – all with less capability that you now have with a decent flash drive, a $200 home scanner and a steady PC server.

In those days, computer technology appeared in our everyday lives through clunky PCs and printers that we would use to write letters and attempt to budget the family finances and do our taxes. Working with computers daily at IBM had me swimming in very different waters than my friends and siblings.  This is not striking or very interesting until I contrast this with Asian students with whom I have worked over the past year who literally risk their lives daily to post their names and photos on Facebook. Where technology used to be nerdy, it’s now deemed a critical necessity.

The next generation, whether you come from a rural region of our south east, the Middle East, Latin America or a monastery in Bhutan wield external drives, digital cameras and cloud computing like our foreparents managed hammers and shears to complete their respective tasks.  Those I see in the classroom are usually armed better I to cross the digital landscape.

I witnessed students dialogue for hours on how to introduce those in their group of Kurdish descent (“should we call them Iraqis, Kurdish or from Kurdistan?”) all the while deftly creating a PowerPoint presentation. While grappling with big issues, I notice that there is no discussion on how they might want to add a short video or animate a slide.  On that they have equal awareness and agreement.

Computers can become more important than sustenance. Visitors with whom we work will forego meals and any entertainment to funnel their per diem money to a laptop fund. Host families and the program assistants consistently make midnight runs to Walmart during the last days of a participant’s visit so he or she can buy electronic equipment. It is not only cheaper here than around the globe, that I am told again and again, but also buying a computer for some is one of their top trip desires.

Through their yearnings and savvy, the students consistently demonstrate that computer and digital skills are key for our next generation of leaders…and, probably for all of us currently working to effectively implement change. This is not new news, but after this month of visitors, I realize I need to consider information systems technology as a critical leadership competency.

Last night in Washington, DC, I attended a final celebration dinner to send off our bright MEPI students after 5 action-packed weeks. Each of the 5 MEPI student groups from around the country were asked to create a 5 minute video or presentation on their time in the US. Our students selected a graphic design student, from Kuwait and a marketing major who also holds a corporate job in Lebanon to lead the charge. Knowing what was possible, most of the students provided photos and ideas and our two video leaders worked through 2 or 3 nights to create this final program deliverable.  It was stellar and included cartoon renderings of each student created by their team graphic artist, meaningful music and a carefully selected (and refined, refined, refined) photomontage to portray their unique Montana highlights.  I was impressed.

Although their video was truly unique, the Montana MEPI students’ professionalism and quality level wasn’t. The friendly competition included tough opponents! For example, when I was a bit awestruck by very polished video with fades, a story line and slow motion created at the University of Delaware. At the table, our students whispered, “It’s not a surprise, one of their students is a film student and works on action movies.”

Gone are the days when leading a project could be done without electronic savvy.  To sell your idea, to portray that your team was the best, or to present anything well, today you are going to want a plug, or perhaps a solar panel, attached.

Harnessing new technology, whatever the form, has always boosted leadership power. The train and then effective use of the car “drove” the results of political races when they were introduced. We can use the additional power for a variety of ends. And so,  if I arm you with a set of powerful tools, be it today computer expertise or how to turn conflict into opportunity, for what will you use them?

I’m a bit fixated on the above question when I am training young leaders. I was reminded again why it feels alright to keep pushing for clear and hopefully positive intentions while I passed through the US Holocaust Memorial Museum (USHMM) . I stopped in front of a full-wall placard entitled, “Technology and Race,” The exhibit explained that by 1938, Hitler’s team had effectively employed the newest data gathering and storage technology available to create a country-wide national registry of Jews during that year’s census. By the following year, systematic killing began.

Then, down the hall, I strolled through the new USHMM Take Action interactive exhibit where you can access their website and track progress on ending genocide in Darfur, support relief and awareness efforts and create a pledge to make the world a better place. Knowledge is power. For good or ill, you must decide.

It gives me hope that every one of our Montana State University MEPI students chose to use their last Saturday afternoon in the US to thoughtfully tour the USHMM exhibits as well.  Each made a conscious choice; Best Buy, Target and more work on the QuickTime video needed to wait until another day.

Defining Leadership

If your actions inspire others to dream more, learn more, do more and become more, you are a leader. – John Quincy Adams

I have been spending four days a week talking about leadership with university students since January. This converts to much considering what it means to lead and how to do it well. Over the past couple of weeks, the students and I have been exploring in depth the traits of leaders we admire.  Yet, completing that exercise left us all feeling like being an “outstanding leader” was well beyond our personal grasp!

Our class results contend that we like to admire our leaders. We want them to be strong, courageous, emotionally intelligent, organized and adaptable. We desire their passions to inspire us into action. We hope that they will motivate us to be our best. They should speak and write well. Yet, upon self-reflection every one of us had noticed that we don’t always measure up to our imposed standards.

My students remind me that this “name your favorite leader traits” game can discourage them from showing up as leaders. How can they consider themselves viable when they are sometimes weak, terrified, coarse, disorganized and fixed in their positions? “If I can’t make the grade, why play and fail,” some of them asked.

Meanwhile, I believe that they are all leaders and they all need to plunge into the work of facilitating change. I keep reminding them of my favorite definition of leadership from Margaret Wheatley, “A leader is anyone who wants to help at this time.” Since each student wants to be of assistance on their campus and in the community, they are leaders, like it or not.

To address the super hero leadership requirements we defined and being human, the students and I have been appreciating Bill George’s book, Authentic Leadership. Bill has a marvelous way of acknowledging that we each bring different approaches, strengths and weaknesses to this job of “helping at this time.” He invites to show up, regardless of where we begin AND to try to rise to our best. Bill explains, “After years of studying leaders and their traits, I believe that leadership begins and ends with authenticity. It’s being yourself; being the person you were created to be…Authentic leaders are dedicated to developing themselves because they know that becoming a leader takes a lifetime of personal growth.”

Using a personal example, I know that the best instructors are ones that have healthy detachment from their students’ performance. To effectively lead a classroom it helps to:

  • Teach at your best,
  • Encourage your students’ best, and
  • Not get thrown off if others don’t rise to your encouragement.

However, this week I wanted to verbally slap the student who, yet again, had not read the assignment and was nodding off in class; not very leader-like or lady-like behavior. I didn’t yell (thankfully), but I was mad that I took way too personally that student’s lack of preparation and focus.

Bill George’s words remind me that not only my wish to remain centered, but also my clear frustration, is authentically me. Acknowledging that I was not feeling very Gandhi-ish, is both kind to myself and it calls me directly to keep trying to practice healthy detachment and creative instruction.

Basically, as my son Cody likes to say, “It’s all good.” I believe it’s good that we set high standards. It’s good that I sometimes get thrown off, so that I can recognize what my standards are and how I get tripped up. Also, it’s good that even though I am far from perfect, I am still trying to help at this time. I don’t know if I’ll ever find appropriate detachment anywhere in my life, but it’s good, according to George and to most spiritual traditions, that I’m just willing to try.

This week as you lead in any way, pay attention. What traits would you like to display and which ones are you using? Instead of backing off from leadership or beating up on yourself because you missing the bulls eye you’ve created, allow where you are and what you care about to guide you. I personally appreciate your “help at this time” and that we all keep practicing!

Here’s a fun leadership video following the theme of today’s post by Derek Sivers that I thought you might enjoy as you consider helping.