Tag Archives: 7 Habits

Leadership | Of Donkeys and People

“One night it’s a donkey, another night it’s a person!”

So matter-of-factly stated an Afrikaner police officer to a colleague of mine, one 1990’s midnight in a North West Province, South African town.

My colleague had been driving a van full of visitors on a return trip to our hotel from a day outing to the luxury resort and casino, Sun City, aka Sin City, when he struck and killed a pedestrian.

Upon arrival at the nearest police station to report the incident, the on-duty officer in all probability simply tried to lessen my colleague’s anguished state of mind by making the “donkey/people comment,” yet in so doing unwittingly voiced his acquired perception of non-white people’s worth and significance:

1 Black Person ≤ 1 Donkey

donkey_blob

Sometimes it’s easiest and more effective to describe the essence of something by depicting its opposite, which is my intention with the donkey story in this thought piece on leadership.

Leadership (at its best) is an inner state of being that feels, perceives, and interacts with all persons as individuals of equal value and dignity to oneself.

Every imaginable leadership book title exists, including 7 Habits, 5 Levels, 6 Steps, 10 Steps, Leadership 101 and 21 Irrefutable Laws, to name but a very few, yet all of them, from my perspective, primarily focus on the external—style or method of leadership, and not leadership’s core essence.

Acquiring leadership expertise by means of habits or steps is enticing because it promises quick results and zero to minimal risk or vulnerability. For instance, seldom will a reader or conference attendee be challenged to say to a child, spouse, subordinate or superior, “I’m sorry,” or “I was wrong,” or to ask, “Will you forgive me?”

Nor will most “instant leadership” books or conferences ask you to contemplate what the other person must be feeling, or what their life circumstances must be like on a day-to-day basis. Rather, focus is on compliance.

Fortunately for those who aspire to a deeper level of leadership significance, whether work, family, or community, this is exactly the type “out of the box” transformational leadership style The Arbinger Institute advocates for in its two bestsellers—Leadership and Self-Deception and The Anatomy of Peace.

We are frequently blind to, self-deceived, when it comes to daily patterns of personal thought, speech or behavior, which hurts people and poisons relationships.

In-the-box leadership operates from an unconscious, yet constant need to feel justified or always right. Feeling justified always requires that someone else be wrong, blameworthy, or a problem.  Only when someone else is at fault or a problem can one’s own life feel good or justified in thought, speech or act.

As Leadership and Self-Deception expresses it, “There’s a peculiar irony to being in the box.  However bitterly I complain about someone’s poor behavior toward me and about the trouble it causes me, I also find it strangely delicious. It’s my proof that others are as blameworthy as I’ve claimed them to be—and that I’m as innocent as I claim myself to be. The behavior I complain about is the very behavior that justifies me.”

How does one get “out of the box” of insecurity and self-justification toward others, and thereby demonstrate Leadership outside-the-box?

By developing a point of feeling for the humanity of all “others” who occupy your concentric circles of shared space, concern or influence. Because at that point of affection or emotion, you’re seeing him or her as a person with needs, struggles, hopes and worries, just like yourself, versus an obstacle, problem or inconvenience.

As nineteenth century Anglican bishop to southeast Africa, John William Colenso, similarly stated, “It is not the outward form alone that makes the immeasurable difference between man and other animals. Wherever we find human affections, there we know we have got a human being.”

Habits, levels, laws, steps, or principles of leadership, therefore, are little help in resolving recurrent or deep-seated interpersonal conflict because they simply “provide people with more sophisticated ways to blame.”

People, whether our children, spouses, enemies or colleagues respond more to how they feel we view and regard them than they do to our particular words or actions toward them.

“Most problems at home, at work, and in the world are not failures of strategy, but failures of ways of being. . . . If we have deep problems, it’s because we are failing at the deepest part of the solution.”

In the spirit of The Arbinger Institute, then—Let’s get busy with the deep things!

 

 

 

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6 Habits of Effective & Influential People | Lessons from a South African “Domestic”

A few months after we relocated to Johannesburg in January 2003, the buzzer at our front security gate sounded. I looked out to see an elderly South African man wearing blue coveralls (typical uniform of manual laborers). I walked out and we greeted. He worked as a gardener for neighbors a few houses down, and wondered if we, too, could use outside help. I quickly discovered he was speaking on behalf of a son, Eddie.

This gate-side conversation initiated a relationship with a Northern Sotho young man and his family, which spanned eight years, and would have continued until “death do us part,” if not for my family’s emergency need to relocate back to the United States. As it is, we speak by phone twice a year.

mokoborofamily

This blog is too insufficient a tribute for this young man who gifted mine and my family’s life. A meaningful friendship was improbable, really, because Eddie spoke and understood little English and I/we knew no Pedi (Northern Sotho), his mother tongue. We communicated in either hand gestures, several word sentences, or when something was really important and required detailed instruction I would solicit translation help from a friend.

An example of a typical communication between us is detailed in my blog “Post Office Memories and Cultural Apropos Uses of the ‘F-word,'” part of which I repost below:

One morning I went outside to water the garden and could not find the water hose attachments. I asked Eddie if he knew where they were. His face told me “yes,” but the difficulty was telling me where and what happened to them.  Eddie spoke hesitantly, communicating a short, crystal clear message: “dogs . . . fucked up.”

You see, in South Africa “f#@ked up” is an expression that unambiguously communicates that something or someone is beyond repair. Eddie was telling me that our dogs, who were capable of destroying even a purported to be indestructible dog bed made out of sisal, were the culprits responsible for destroying my hose attachments.

We laugh when we recall how Eddie informed us that his day’s work was done, and that he was leaving for home. Typically my wife might be busy in the kitchen cooking dinner, unaware Eddie was either in the doorway or right outside the kitchen window. He would startle her by loudly, almost shouting, “I GO!”

Unlike many, whose talk exceeds their walk, Eddie, in the absence of a command of English communicated by life example / demonstration. What follows are six habits, or disciplines of Eddie’s that daily communicated a highly effective, highly principled life, which I imagine Stephen Covey would agree with.

First, slightly different from Mayor Bloomberg’s Secrets of Success of “arrive early, stay late, eat lunch at your desk,” Eddie demonstrated a work ethic of “arrive on time, eat lightly – healthily – drinking only water (during work hours), work steadily and persistently, and leave on time so as to prioritize self-care and family care.”

I’ve known no harder work in my life than Eddie. Instead of motivating him to work, I had the opposite problem – getting him to take a break, or take an afternoon or day off.

Eddie2

Second, break down or divide the oft-times near-overwhelming mass or totality of a large job or assignment into smaller, more manageable pieces.

Of the three locations we lived during these eight years, Eddie always established a routine for each task at each place for each week, resulting in a showcase yard and a pristine house.

Third, one’s perspective / attitude is everything!

Depending upon which study or news source you read, upwards of 71-percent of working Americans are dissatisfied with their jobs, and some of us are without jobs.

Despite officially being defined as a “domestic” – defined in South Africa as anyone working 24-hours or more per month for a household – Eddie demonstrated pleasure and pride in each day’s work, irrespective of how menial the task might be. He’s especially been my inspiration these days, since assuming my family’s many daily and so-called menial tasks of home management.

Fourth, be willing to assist the organization and/or your colleagues when necessary (without complaining or drawing attention to self) by doing or getting involved in tasks that technically either lie outside your own job description or that seem beneath your status or dignity to perform.

Initially I hired Eddie to work outside in the garden. Upon relocating to Pietermaritzburg from Johannesburg, our inside house-helper was unable to relocate with us. I felt it would be disrespectful to Eddie to ask him to assume inside duties, in case he viewed this as “woman’s work.” After moving, my family initially went about doing all household chores. No more than a few days passed before Eddie insisted on assuming both inside and outside responsibilities – insisted by simply doing, before we were able to; never a word being spoken.

He did what needed to be done. He did it without complaint. He worked as if striving for perfection.

Fifth, choose teachable moments to demonstrate or communicate desired change in leadership or organizational process, rather than reacting by engaging in embittered backbiting or lobbying.

I’m quite sure Eddie thought my family and I were wasteful, as in spending needless money on “extras” that we had no real need of. After all, you don’t develop a habit of counting pennies unless you need those pennies.

We had several hunter green, plastic patio chairs. Being plastic and relatively cheap it wasn’t uncommon for them to break. One day I tossed one chair in the trash because the arm of the chair broke in two, length-wise. I took little cognizance one day of what Eddie was painstakingly doing. Later that evening when my wife and I sat outside on our patio (verandah) for a cup of coffee together, as we routinely did, I noticed that Eddie had taken an ice pick, plus copper wire, and had effectively sewn the chair’s rip up. He first poked a series of stitch holes along each seam of the crack, then he took the wire and sewed the two pieces together. The finished result was not only a stronger-than-new chair, but also a lesson to me to be less wasteful and more resourceful.

chair4

Sixth, never be too busy or self-absorbed that you are insensitive to the needs and struggles of others within your circle of concern.

Develop the discipline of sharing time and showing kindness (respect) to the least visible, lowest profile (status) people within an organization – even to their children, or especially to children.

Eddie and his family, will always be to my children and our family the 9th to 12th members of our now blended family, yet who just happen to live in South Africa. All the more so, since Eddie named his second child after me!

We feel such affection toward Eddie and his family because he/they invested time, effort, hospitality, laughter and meals with us, and especially with our children – this, despite having negligible disposable income, plus their total home space being no larger than most moderately affluent Americans’ master bedroom.

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It Seldom Is What It Seems

Meryl Streep “had a farm in Africa.”

In the third-grade, I had a friend in Africa.

I don’t remember much about him. And, it’s probably good we didn’t grow up together. For in that short span of a year, we got into enough mischief as it is. I remember a passing Kenyan motorist loudly knocking on my family’s front door one darkening evening, and speaking angrily with my dad because the two of us had “accidentally” thrown a rock at, and struck, his car.

I also remember us sitting on my bed playing the “I call dibs on” game, only instead of calling dibs on cars or motorbikes, as one might do during long car rides to pass the time away, my American expat friend and I called dibs on lingerie-clad only women in a Spiegel or Sears similar catalog. Ironically, as I googled the spelling and meaning of “dibs,” I discovered one definition is “a game played by young gentlemen, in which you call dibs on any young lady that takes your fancy.”

Anyway, after having kids of my own, and trying repeatedly over many, many occasions to instill in them a more critical assessment of the real lives of their school friends’ alleged lives (in contrast, for example, to what is stressing my child, but which they think will make them happy – aka, my kids’ claim that ALL their classmates have this-or-that latest and most fashionable item, seen the newest R-rated Blockbuster movie, eat at a restaurant daily), it’s in parenting moments, especially, that I remember this friend of mine in Africa.

The reason being?

He used to brag all the time about owning multiple this-and-that, and more than once promised he would share some of his “multiples” with me. What I hoped for most was one of his “multiple pellet guns” (he claimed to have 4+), because my siblings were all into guns and hunting at that stage in my upbringing. Need I mention that I never saw, let alone benefited from a single “multiple” of his?

For some reason, this young friend of mine felt the need to put on airs; to pretend to be a much better, more attractive version of himself than what really was; to be better than and superior to me; to convince me through imaginative boasting that his life was A-OK, even better than my own.

That was a preamble to the “IT” of my blog’s title. Let me define “it” by reference to a somewhat humorous story told to me yesterday by a just returning-from-vacation-in-Tahoe, weekly-book-discussion-group-friend, who, himself, is a successful professional.

I’ve never been to Tahoe, but based on a former high school Facebook friend’s photos from two weeks back, plus Tahoe’s own promotional website, it must be an almost 8th wonder of the world, especially during peak seasonal periods of the year.

What evidently struck my friend more than Tahoe’s natural scenery was the prolific plastic surgery scenery!

What made me chuckle when he recounted his time, was his re-enactment of the much more senior male companions to their much more younger and artificially sculpted women. He mimicked decrepit, hobbling about old men, who evidently were doing their darndest to deny and delay the inevitable.

The “IT“, then, is the false (or at least half-truths) projected reality that so many of us become proficient in living and acting out in life. So much so, that over time it becomes our accustomed and unconscious “real life.”

Sadly, even embarrassingly so, individuals more grounded in “actual” and “real” life readily discern our transparent dissemblances.

Obviously, and to some extent, our fakery is a coping mechanism; a way, life habit, mannerism, or even life style, that we’ve adapted in order to deal with the pain or incongruencies of our only too real and everyday (and past) lives.

Perhaps, it’s somewhat analogous to comedians. I wouldn’t presume to characterize all comedians, but among celebrity ones, such as Peter Sellers, John Belushi, John Candy, Chris Farley, Phil Hartman, Sam Kinison, et cetera, their biographies are frequently painful reads, where humor became a lifeline; a coping mechanism adopted unconsciously, perhaps, in order to see the light and breath of another day.

In five weeks, my book club will discuss Stephen Covey’s dated, yet timeless “The 7 Habits of Highly Successful People.” I’m curious as to how “success” will be defined and communicated.

More importantly, perhaps – alluding to Victor Frankl’s classic, Man’s Search for Meaning – I wonder if individually and as a group, we’ll feel emotionally safe enough with one another to risk being vulnerable, candid and authentic by sharing with one another whether our lives to date reflect a contentedness with life and the meaning we’ve found in it, or a persona to deflect attention away from our vulnerabilities, struggles, addictions and inner emotional hurts and wounds.

What about you?

Are you more persona than person?

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