Leadership

Alpha-Omega Testing

You may have heard of beta testing. This is when software companies share their most recent developments with a select audience to uncover bugs so that they can be fixed before the product’s full release. At this stage, a team of developers has likely already invested a great deal of time conceptualizing, planning, creating, and refining the software. In a wolf pack, the omega wolf is the one who is most often hurt and excluded yet creates harmony within the group; she or he is submissive and may stray from the pack.

I like to think of this blog as an alpha test for ideas. This is a space where I share my somewhat moderated thoughts and ideas so that they can be collectively thought through and tested. I do so with an omega spirit. Opening up myself in such a way requires humility, vulnerability, and risk of ridicule.

Limitless Loving Leadership

L3: Release Your Ego

Ego imbalances can be rampant in leadership circles. You know who you are: the board member with a personal agenda; the coach on a power trip; the supervisor who speaks with two mouths and listens with one ear. Although you may not fit into one of these archetypes, there are times when all of us suffer from ego saturation. This is when our ego leads us to act in a way that is contrary to our highest values under the guise of self-protection and self-preservation.

When others try to hurt us, we sometimes pull out our ego shield to fend them off or hide. When they really hurt us, we may grasp our ego sword to poke at them or slice them down. As a leader, we must always think and act offensively, strategically, and holistically rather than reacting to the situation. Keep that shield and sword for emergencies only.

The ego can serve as a barrier to insulate, separate, and isolate us from the radiant energy of the universe and from that of other people. This can be a protective or destructive device depending on the circumstance. When our health or well-being is threatened, an ego-driven response keeps us safe. When our sense of self-righteousness is challenged, our ego severs relationships and natural life processes with the unintended outcome of further isolation and feelings of abandonment on both sides.

I tend to be a quiet, humble person. I am quite aware of this, and am equally aware of how other leaders may misinterpret my peaceful countenance. When I enter a meeting with other leaders with whom I only have an ancillary relationship, I know that some of them may be under the impression that I am weak, inexperienced, or unintelligent. I therefore tend to feel defensive when another leader says something to imply that my ideas are less valid or important than theirs. An ego-driven response in this situation might get my point across, but it would also make me look and feel selfish and insecure. Calmly explaining a thorough justification for my idea would instead reflect my true nature: that of a confident, compassionate, and collaborative community leader.

The ego sometimes masques our true feelings, values, beliefs, motivations, and ambitions. In the mental space where we navigate and negotiate the characteristics that distinguish us from others, who we truly are or ought to be can become confused when our ego is directing and controlling our thoughts. The ego defines us by making comparisons to, and judgments about, people we admire and despise; our soul understands and celebrates our individuality based on our personal experiences, character, thoughts, and actions. By transcending the ego and tapping into our souls, there are no externally defined limits on who we can be or what we can accomplish.

The space we subconsciously use to accommodate our ego is where we accumulate hurt, disappointment, and feelings of inadequacy. This clutter challenges our ability to lead with love and compassion by triggering ego-driven responses. Yet sometimes we choose to dwell in this dreary, horrible place. Perhaps it feels comfortable; familiar thought patterns, even those that are counterproductive or hurtful, are in the realm of what we know and have a sense of being able to control. The more time we spend in our ego space, the longer we yearn to be there to negate the negativity we have stockpiled – and off we go into the black hole of the downward spiral. Why not just bust out of your ego box and draw in the good directly?

By releasing our ego, we open up unlimited possibilities and more opportunities to find joy and unexpected surprises in ourselves, the people with whom we work, and the process of experiencing our vocation. When you become aware of your ego interfering in your interactions with others and interrupting your intuitive soulful response, imagine releasing it like a bird that will fly to a nearby tree branch where it can watch over you. Liberate your mind as your ego seeps out of your body and into the air; watch it transform into positive energy all around you. Imagine yourself walking about surrounded with sparkles and sweetly chirping birds; you are safe, whole, and vibrant. Remember that you can always pull out your ego sword and shield – just in case.

Leadership

Je Suis Libree

And the day came when the risk to remain tight in a bud was more painful than the risk it took to blossom.” – Anais Nin

That day came and went for me, over and over again for several years. The bud began to rot inside, starved from light and unable to grow.

This is one of the reasons why I recently left a relatively secure and stable job as an executive director so that I could launch an online school for my progressive friends around the world. That particular job was occupying too much of my intellectual and emotional space, distorting the boundaries and destroying the terrain.

At the same time, I felt like the queen of a complacent little island while the whole rest of the world raged on fire. I realized within my soul a burning desire to more meaningfully serve humanity. And so I lovingly descended from my precious throne, only to swim through uncertain waters and encounter red eyed rabid crocodiles whose greatest pleasure would be to eat me alive. With the island further and further from view, I risk being burned and consumed; drowned and eaten alive.

Goodbye, Family Connection. Hello world.

Social and Political Theory

Detachment from Dogma

My perspective is to detach from dogma and to explore possibilities. I am not a ‘pure’ post-modernist, integralist, material-realist, etc.; rather, I float within and among various positionalities as a means to expand my realm of personal understanding.

As a result, I may say things that seem to be contradictory. I like to think of them as complementary instead. Each idea is but one microscopic iteration of the reality that I have observed and absorbed.

I revere this as a precious gift. I am able to review two opposing views about an idea and (usually) appreciate some kind of beauty and profundity in each. Of course, there are many things that I have observed which I have chosen — consciously or not — to not absorb. These things, real or imagined, may be outside of my compassionate heart (hate groups), my intellect (calculus), and/or my experience (parasailing) so that it seems disconnected from that which is already in me and therefore has little to no meaning or value.

Written while barefoot in Bryant Park

Changemaker Chats

Changemaker Chat: David McReynolds

David McReynolds is lifelong Socialist Party activist, a pacifist who worked with the War Resisters League from 1960 through 1999, an author of essays, a speaker, and an organizer, with more than a few arrests during actions. He was also the Socialist Party candidate for President in 1980 and 2000 and the chair of War Resisters International for one term. You can learn more about David by visiting www.edgeleft.org.

How did you first become interested in social change?

I suspect I became interesting quite early, in high school, partly as a result of the teachings of the Baptist church I attended, and partly as a result of following events in World War II very closely, and the aftermath of the war.

How do you define social justice?

Social justice would be a society in which, without trying to “level everyone,” there would be no massive concentrations of private wealth and the general population would have decent housing, medical care, and access to education.

What has been your most exciting experience as an activist?

Perhaps the demonstration in Moscow in 1978, opposing both the Soviet and American arms races. Our group demonstration in Red Square as the same moment as fellow pacifists walked onto the White House lawn and unfurled a banner.

What is the most interesting project in which you are currently involved?

Probably trying to sort through the thousands of negatives and prints in order they can be useful to pacifist and socialist historians (photography having been a hobby of mine).

What is your vision for a better world?

Less emphasis on “nation states,” more serious work on disarmament to a police level.

What are your plans for the future?

At 82, there are no extensive plans for the future

Limitless Loving Leadership

L3: Introduction

Limitations exist for many reasons: to protect us from physical or emotional danger; to conserve and allocate limited resources; and to balance the needs of human beings in relationship. They serve functions that are both natural and imposed; they can be real or illusory. Limitations can feel like barriers, constraints, or obstacles that interfere with our desire for, and ability to pursue, human liberation.

While the limitations in our lives may seem endless, the love in our hearts need not be. Limitless loving leadership offers an antidote to the feelings of powerlessness, cynicism, despair, and frustration that can block even the most creative and cheerful of leaders from time to time.

Leadership is the process of resisting and redefining limitations, yet we live in a world where limitations seem to be limitless. Love can help us transcend those spiritual, emotional, physical, and intellectual limitations that inhibit our true nature through self-awareness, community harmonization, and divine connection.

The ideas in this blog series apply to leaders of all kinds – mothers who are in charge of unruly (or well-behaved) children, CEOs of transnational corporations, grassroots community group leaders, teachers, coaches, neighbors, and friends. We all have the opportunity to exercise leadership when we make decisions that impact other human beings and our planet. This typically happens hundreds of times every day. Limitless Loving Leadership will help you cultivate awareness about the many ways all human beings assume the role of leader, regardless of the magnitude of each person’s impact, and to be more intentional about the decisions you make.

Limitless loving leadership is based on five infinite, renewable resources that actually multiply whenever they are used:

  1. Love – the light that shines from within our souls and radiates through our every thought and action
  2. Compassion – the understanding that all living things are interconnected and that we share a yearning for lovingkindness
  3. Wisdom – the collective experience and knowledge of ourselves, our communities, and the universe
  4. Sincerity – the ability to be honest, authentic, and straightforward with ourselves and others especially during those times when it feels uncomfortable
  5. Hope – a sense that the future will be glorious and recognition that we, as leaders, have an instrumental role to play in realizing this dream

Our approach to limitless loving leadership will be based on three philosophical ideas. It is:

  1. Interdisciplinary – leadership practice is strengthened through the exploration inclusion, and integration of diverse epistemologies, ideologies, and methodologies
  2. Holistic – all things are connected, often in interesting and unexpected ways
  3. Fluid – matter, thoughts, and interactions are in a constant state of motion which reminds us to be evolutionary, flexible, and detached from what we believe the truth to be at any given moment

Scientific inquiry in the academy calls for rigid definitions and operationalization of concepts. As a doctoral student and future keeper of the discipline, I fully value and accept the responsibility of that approach. Limitless Loving Leadership is a different kind of experiment – one that engages not only our minds, but also our hearts and our souls. Our definition of limitless loving leadership allows room for mystery, wonder, and imagination.

I have come to the painful (not yet transcendent) realization that I am nothing and I know nothing. I do not profess that this blog series will make you more rich or successfully or happy. As Gil Scott-Heron said in The Revolution will not be Televised, “the revolution will not make you look five pounds thinner.” Neither will this blog series. What will Limitless Loving Leadership help you become or achieve? That’s up to you. My hope is that Limitless Loving Leadership will serve as a source of inspiration, encouragement, and amusement for any and all people who embrace and live the joyous struggle of change. By the time you are finished reading this blog series, I hope you are able to not only step outside of “the box” but to realize that the box was never really there in the first place – it was only a figment of our collective imaginations.

Limitless loving leadership is based on the assumption that our personal and professional lives are deeply intertwined and that changing who we are as a person has a profound impact on our professional life. This, in turn, impacts the communities and society in which we live. At times when writing this blog series, I felt overwhelmed with sadness. I realized that I am not living up to my potential in some areas and that I often feel uncertain about my next steps. If you feel resistance as you work through this blog series, spend some time with your feelings and consider discussing what you have learned with a friend (or professional, if needed). I have not yet developed the maturity to fully employ all of the concepts in this blog series all of the time. My goal is to fully align my values and intentions with action. We are on this journey together.

I spent a few days with His Holiness the Dalai Lama as he lectured to a large crowd at Lehigh University in the summer of 2008. He extolled the many virtues of Buddhism and its practical application to diverse daily matters. He acknowledged that not all tenets of this particular belief system would be welcome by all. He told the audience that if there were aspects of his teachings not to their liking then, and I quote, “F**k it. No problem.”

Like the Dalai Lama, I encourage you to sort through the material in this blog series, use what is relevant, meaningful, or useful to you, and leave the rest behind. No problem.

Note: This series was written in 2010 and 2011 and may or may not reflect my current thinking

Allentown Girl

Rethinking Utopia

In 1998, I lived in a 15th floor studio apartment in West Philadelphia. At my desk overlooking both lovely Fairmount Park and the city skyline, I created a never published website simply called Utopia. The vision for the project, according to the second home page I developed, was to empower and motivate young women and men to actively construct their lives and communities in order to exist more peacefully and harmoniously with themselves, others, and the environment. I promised readers to publish a quarterly journal entitled Utopia: An Overture of Peace and Harmony and to create a website that would: educate people about their rights, responsibilities, and human potential; distribute information that is helpful in cultivating compassionate, well rounded, and determined human beings; share experiences among each other so that we may learn and grow with each other; analyze psychological and social theories and discover how to apply them to get more out of our daily lives; enlighten with art, poetry, and prose; and provide an exchange for buyers and sellers of intellectually stimulating, ecologically sound, and socially responsible products and services.
With the exception of the last statement and the nuances of naivete, I am struck by the similarities between the aforementioned forsaken website and the relaunch of The Fruition Coalition this summer. Something deep within my soul, which I have repressed and redirected over the past 15 years, is yearning to be set free.

I am grateful for the many detours my life has taken since the initial conceptualization of Utopia: I have earned two and a half graduate degrees; helped to raise two lovely girls who are both now college students; and served the community as an executive director and in several other capacities. All of these experiences — indeed, all of my experiences — will inform the ongoing development of this and other projects. I am especially grateful for this opportunity to integrate my inner dreams, perhaps my soul purpose, with everything I have learned about myself and the world in which I live throughout my early adulthood. Still a work in progress, I look forward to reviewing blog posts from The Activist’s Muse, posts on Le Salon Utopique, and recordings of classes from The Fruition Academy of Social Imagination and Action in another 15 years to reflect on my journey and the person I am becoming.

Thank you for being a part of this journey. To Utopia we go!

 

Leadership, Research, Social and Political Theory

Defining and Realizing Success

The Sociological Images blog recently posted an article referencing the Pew Research Center’s report, The Causalities: Faith and Hard Work in Capitalism. The first extracted chart shows how people view the relationship between hard work and success. In the United States, 77% of respondents indicated that they believe success will come to those who work hard.

My immediate reaction was to think of all of the other factors that influence the achievement of success such as education, opportunity, and access to resources. I have experienced first hand the superimposed barriers that have prevented me from seeing a direct relationship between my immense hard work and my perceived success. I have worked full+ time while pursing five degrees over the past 18 years — hard work indeed. Yet, I have not reaped the financial rewards that one might expect to accrue to a person who has demonstrated consistent dedication to her professional field. In fact, my standard of living remains overwhelmingly simple.

But then I started to think more deeply about this topic. I realized that my immediate definition of success was limited to economic return. Truly, I do not have such a myopic view of success. Rather, I define success as being happily engaged in work, feeling peaceful, experiencing loving relationships, feeling a strong spiritual connection, and having the opportunity to make a meaningful contribution to my community. By these measures, I am truly successful and can choose to be at any moment in time. I further realized that my economic view of success was short term; perhaps this is influenced by our political system and instant gratification culture. Over time, particularly once I complete the doctoral program in which I am currently enrolled, I can expect some financial return based on my competence, experience, education, and — yes –my determination and hard work. I can translate my inner self into material manifestation through my action. This is what it means to be a leader.

I also appreciate that there are many people who have not seen the challenges in their lives through the same lens as me and those who have been systematically disadvantaged for many more reasons than me. Those barriers — both personal and political — must be removed so that every American, and everyone around the world, can realize her or his potential. Success will come to those work hard if we redefine the meaning of success, focus on a long-term perspective, and persistently pursue our individual and collective dreams. Starting now.