Wednesday, June 27, 2012

What is Your Guiding Vision?

Staying with themes from Warren Bennis' book, On Becoming a Leader, today's post is about one of the most critical. I confess that this topic is written about abundantly and sometimes it seems like overkill, but nonetheless it is extremely important. It is the subject of what Bennis calls guiding vision, and appropriately it is in a chapter with the title, "Understanding the Basics." Bennis describes this aspect as the first ingredient of leadership, and goes on to write, "The leader has a clear idea of what he or she wants to do - professionally and personally - and the strength to persist in the face of setbacks, even failures" (p. 33).

It sounds like it would be a quick, easy task to identify and proclaim your personal guiding vision. I mean, this should be the driving force in your life, yet I have found that this is one of the most difficult challenges for me. Moreover, with each new phase of life or career change there is a sense to recalibrate, or at least, re-evaluate one's current guiding vision. Still, despite the transitions and crises that come up in life, there is probably one, central drive to each person's life. Some call it passion. Some call it vision. To others it is a calling. It is that reason we exist. We may build differently on it at times, but at its foundation there is very little change over time (barring a radical, spiritual transformation or something of that sort).

For me, my personal guiding vision is clear. My purpose is to spur on radical reformation of public education, the church, and myself to promote a free and fruitful generation.

That is my foundation. It is my overarching vision that guides everything else (or so it should, but sometimes laziness and apathy get the better of me). Now, I have to build relational priorities, professional goals, physical habits, family values, etc. on that foundation. That is where the vision gets fleshed out on practical levels.

I am challenged at this level in two areas right now. (Well, more than two, but only two that I want to concentrate on for now.) One is related to my profession as an educator. The other is related to a ministry I am trying to create with my niece aimed at young people.

My call to action for anyone reading this post is to ask where you might be struggling to clearly articulate your vision. Could it be as a spouse, parent, follow of Jesus, manager at work, U.S. citizen, social justice advocate, community volunteer, etc.? In what ways do the different areas, or roles, that you come up with tie in to a bigger, overarching vision for your whole life?

My next couple posts will be places where I share my conclusions in these two areas and offer some things to think about in formulating your own vision.

Monday, June 25, 2012

Who Do You Think You Are to Speak Up?!

Returning to Warren Bennis' book, On Becoming a Leader, here is another comment that I believe is paramount. "No one is more valuable to the organization than the subordinate willing to speak truth to power." 

I have to contend that fear is the only thing that makes this declaration hard to accept because on paper it is obvious. If you map out any organization or system, of course the people closest to the issues can speak to the reality of daily operations and their effects more accurately than anyone else. In fact, this is often explicitly stated in systems thinking in this way: The person closest to the problem probably has the best answer to solve it.

This thought raises many questions for me, such as how we define subordinate (and why we even use the word in the first place) or what it means to truly wield power. When considering how much greater we can make the world of the next generation in the future, we cannot help but consider how much greater we can make the current institutions in which they are participating. Within these organizations, there must be people who are willing to speak truth regardless of their position!

It takes no courage to complain to those around us without authority to change things. In fact, it may even soothe our egos to know they agree with us. On the other hand, the courageous act is to speak up even when you know it will be uncomfortable. I admit that there have been times I have stood up and respectfully done just that, and there are also times I have shrunk back.

What I am finding is that a steady resolve for doing what is best for kids helps me to speak up more than shrink back. Of course, as with anything, when there are other "subordinates" who are encouragers and allies willing to speak up together, that is the best case scenario.

Thought for today: What truth do I need to speak to the powers around me? If I am in a position of power, then am I listening honestly to the truth being said to me no matter where it is coming from?

Saturday, June 23, 2012

Nothing to Prove

Over the next few posts, I want to share brief reflections on what I consider profound points from a book I recently read, entitled On Becoming a Leader (2009) by Warren Bennis. This work, which a friend of mine told me is basically the standard "go to" guide on leadership, has actually been around for decades. After being updated only a few years ago, it is a terrific resource.

Here is the statement from the introduction of the book that captures my interest today: "Leaders have no interest in proving themselves, but an abiding interest in expressing themselves."

I wish I could cling to this attitude everyday. It is almost always when I get focused on proving myself to others or even myself that I get derailed. To simply express what I am convicted about, sure of, and committed to while being at peace with where the chips may fall seems so much better. It seems right...on all kinds of levels. It seems inspired; more spiritual; more beyond ourselves, if you will.

Who am I trying to prove myself to anyway? Why?

And you? Does this idea resonate with you at all?

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

What Would the Bible be Rated?

(Most of this post is an old one that I never published.)

Today, I have been challenged to include a "call to action" at the end of my blog post. (Well, technically, I was given this challenge almost two weeks ago. I'm a little behind...)

I am really starting to be somewhat dismayed by my own cynical, sarcastic side. Sometimes, even I am thinking, Gosh Marc, that's a pretty ugly part of who you are!

At this point, I could ask for forgiveness and seek to cleanse that negative characteristic from my personality or I could pass on the ugliness to others and further perpetuate the problem.

Today, this blog post is my attempt to do the latter. Just think of it as my contribution to world restoration.

So, my recent thought was in response to a discussion a few people were having about what children are exposed to in the media. Specifically, they were complaining that parents had brought their children to see a particular movie. (Here comes my mischievous thought.)

I thought about interjecting, "It's okay. They can go home afterward and comfort them with peaceful and wholesome images while reading the Bible together. Maybe parts of Genesis, like when God floods the whole world and all people of all ages drown or the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah. There are many tame parts to choose from that merely involve minor, unobjectionable events like rape, murder, kidnapping, or war. And plagues are always good.
There's a little something for the whole family." (See what I mean! Why am I being like this?)
Seriously, this question came up recently for me anyway because my 10-year old daughter has been reading through the Bible from the beginning. Now, she is leading our simple church group through a study and discussion of Genesis. We raise a lot of questions together.

But I can't help but wonder if I should be "covering her eyes" for the "scary parts" of this movie we call Scripture. Then, I doubt myself for even considering such an action. Who am I to deprive her of divine revelation? So, is the good parenting move to expose her to it all no holds barred or to shield her from all that evil deeds recorded for who knows what reason?

I wonder what today's MPAA rating system would rate the Bible if it were turned into a feature film in 2012.

So, back to the "call to action" challenge. My call to action for you is very simple. Give me your opinion. What do you think the Bible would be rated? If you want to go above and beyond, then link to some related information or justification for your answer. This is call to participate in what is, ultimately, a fruitless conversation, I know.

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

Reality from My Perspective

"Just keep describing reality from your perspective without laying blame and you will be fine."

These words caught my attention as I recently listened to a presentation by Susan Scott, author of Fierce Conversations (2002) and Fierce Leadership (2009), while she listed various pieces of advice.

It stood out to me because I believe it is true, but moreover, I want to believe it is true. It's one of those ideals that makes one think, If this could work, then just maybe the world ain't so bad. Maybe it is possible to enact change without leaving a trail of victims and scapegoats along the way.

I have to admit that the "your perspective" part gives me pause. Then, I wonder, Is it ever really possible to describe reality from anyone else's perspective other than your own?

Also, is it appropriate, or even honest, to end any piece of advice with "you'll be fine"? From my experience and observation, this sentiment just doesn't ring true. The fact is that consistently describing a reality that is uncomfortable for someone to deal with, whether that be an individual, committee, or organization can be a tough process. It can leave you alienated, disillusioned, unpopular.

Perhaps, if the reality from "your perspective" is indeed reality, period, then maybe the mere awareness of that is the same as being "fine" within your heart. Maybe the integrity of staying true to convictions regardless of how uneasy they make anyone feel (even you) is what it means to "be fine" in the end. You might not be fine with everyone, but which of us ever is?

So, let me take a stab at this. Reality from my perspective says that this admonition is misleading. My reality is that many people actually want to lay blame rather than just face facts and deal with issues objectively. And, of course, I wonder whose fault that is. ;)

Having said all that, though, I think this is an area in which the vision of the ideal must trump all else. It's kind of like Mother Teresa's "Anyway" poem. In the end, the truth may very well be that defining reality from your perspective without laying blame does not mean you'll be fine. It might mean hurts along the way. It might mean distractions. It might mean more work. It might mean misunderstandings, and it is never fun to be misunderstood, especially in your motives.

Still, my experience also tells me that despite all these legitimate concerns, this charge to define reality without laying blame is indeed the best action to take, particularly if you are in any kind of work with shaping culture that impacts the next generation (what this blog is intended to be all about).

There is no better option for those of us in public schools or ministries to families and young people or church reform settings than to define the reality that exists no matter what it is, and in turn, do so without laying blame. Admittedly, this is no small task. This is difficult!

Be the broken record, if necessary, but consistently, relentlessly, passionately help others to see the reality for what it is while pressing on to create a new, better reality.