In both of the intensive leadership programs I’ve participated in–California Agricultural Leadership Program and CTI Co-Active Leadership–there has been an emphasis on health and fitness. The central message was to be an effective leader you must manage your health so that you are not hampered by illness. I have always needed to lose a few pounds but otherwise have enjoyed good health, so I never understood how important health is to achieving my leadership potential.
Then menopause happened and my fibromyalgia came roaring back. I now have empathy for people dealing with any kind of chronic pain. I am not sure the energy tax I’ve been paying for my fibro-related pain, but I would guess my productivity and enthusiasm are down 15-20% compared to 2 years ago.
Then on February 10 this year I developed hives and I’ve been experiencing them in different parts of my body in the weeks since. The over the counter medication does not control them very well either. I am at my wit’s end, so I am starting an elimination diet.
I will chronicle my journey giving up almost everything I usually eat to find a way to release the healthier, stronger, focused leader in me.
You may not have noticed, but I went dark for a few weeks. I fell into a deep funk after the election. Once the outrage subsided I found my motivation at a very low ebb. I gave myself permission to retreat. I am coming out it now and one of the contributing factors was witnessing my friend Mai Vang’s swearing in to the Sacramento City Unified School District.
Mai invited her family and friends to attend and about 100 people filled the boardroom to support her on this momentous occasion. Four people actually shared in administering the oath: her high school teacher and mentor, a parent from the district who inspires her, a Burbank High School student, and an elder from her Hmong community.
It was so moving to hear Mai repeat the oath to defend the US constitution and the constitution of the State of California. Here was evidence that our democracy can still function beautifully.
This is Mai’s story. Her family was part of the wave of immigrants from Laos that came to the US after the Vietnam War. Mai is the oldest of 16 children and she worked hard to learn English while retaining the Hmong language to be able to respect her elders as that culture teaches. At the same time she didn’t want to remain in poverty, so she studied hard and accepted help from Ms. Crowder who helped to coach her to earn the grades to get into college and a Buck Fellowship. Mai went on to University of San Francisco and then UCLA to earn two master’s degrees. She could be earning larger salaries working in public health. She chose to return to Sacramento to organize her community. She is staff to a Sacramento City Councilmember and now a member of the school board representing a part of the school district that is challenged by low income and fewer opportunities.
As she took the oath my eyes teared up. Here is proof that if you work hard and participate in our democracy you can take a seat at the table. I only wish there were more Mai’s from her community running for office. More young people from all walks of life stepping up to leadership.
Rob Bell in Episode 122 of his RobCast “We need to talk about politics…” (October 16, 2016) He explains why politics needs to reclaimed as a good thing. The origin of the word of politics Greek is “politicos” and means citizens. It is essentially a good word and determines how we arrange our common life together. There is something sacred and holy about our shared life together. As a poli-sci nerd I don’t need to be convinced by Rob Bell that policy is also important.
We have to pay attention to actual policy to cut through the clouds of opinion in a post-truth world. We need to talk about the nuts and bolts of how things get done.
If you don’t step up, people and corporations who do not care about our common good take advantage of your cynicism or disaffection. This is OUR common good. Be part of the solution not part of the problem. But don’t kid yourself into thinking that doing nothing is anything other than being part of the problem.
Mai Vang is willing to commit a large amount of time to learn the issues facing the Sacramento City Unified School District and help to adopt policies that result in better outcomes for all students. I am digging into local housing policy to find ways to dramatically reduce people experiencing homelessness.
Up With People is in Sacramento this week. The program participants exercise their leadership by organizing various events including a leadership round table. Fourteen local leaders, including me, joined the 100 cast members to talk about leadership. In each group of about 6 people, we could ask each other anything, follow any aspect of leadership. We talked for about 10 minutes and then moved on to the next circle.
I was very impressed by the young people from around the world who are a part of the program. They are a terrific reminder that many 20 somethings are ready to take on leadership and make our world a better place.
They also sing and dance. If you are in the Sacramento area, please support this terrific program by attending their performance on Friday September 30 at 7:30 p.m. at Memorial Auditorium. Tickets available on-line or at the box office. $25 per person.
Postscript: In a couple of our circles I was asked questions that led me to reflect my early leadership training was all about the externals: running a meeting, public speaking, time management, setting goals. Then midway through life the leadership tasks before me were more daunting and these externals were not enough. I found myself seeking out executive coaching, then CTI Co-Active Leadership training. This program focused on my inner life and becoming clear about my motivations and self-management to be a more effective leader.
I was reminded of this again this morning when I read Chapter 6 of Parker Palmer’s The Hidden Wholeness. He uses the story of the Woodcutter to explain how circles of trust help us to do “the work before the work”. This is a great way to describe the CTI training: the work you need to do internally before you can do the external leadership.
I know I have about as much chance of winning a lunch with President Obama in Chicago as I do winning the lottery with a ticket. I have been a sucker for this fundraising strategy since 2008. This time responding to the DCCC email, I felt a certain thrill. What if I actually won. What would I ask him? What would I say?
I would have to work so hard to ground myself and maintain my voice. What next?
First, I would thank him for withstanding so much ridiculous criticism with grace, for serving with such intelligence, and for being a great role model for leadership.
Then I would ask him how he avoided burn out working so long and hard as President.
What are some of the surprising leadership lessons he learned in the White House?
If he could go incognito anywhere in the world, where would he go? What is his idea of a perfect day?
What did he read on his vacation? What does he look forward to reading in January?
I’m not sure what I’d want to share. I believe I’d be happy to just enjoy the conversation. With my adrenaline surely pumping, how would I remember it?
One of my strengths as a leader is my lack of certainty. (You may recall it also one of my weaknesses.) For many years I reveled in my ability to make snap judgments and decisions. I believed that I was right 98 percent of the time. It led to much unhappiness. It also achieved results.
One of the CTI coaching workshops is called Perspective and it changed my life and leadership. The basic premise is you start with a statement that you feel fairly certain about, but one that is unsatisfactory. For example, “I am not an athlete and I am going to suffer on RAGBRAI (upcoming 7 day ride).” Then you move physically (as simple as standing up and turning around) and make an opposite statement (even if you do not believe it). For example, “I am an athlete and I am going to kick RAGBRAI’s butt.” Then you take on other perspectives and make other statements, each time moving physically. Ultimately you will land on a perspective that resonates and is sometimes far from where you started.
This process enables me to find a perspective that serves my goals and is actually closer to the Truth. It also helps me hold my judgments more lightly and as a result I suffer less.
Today I found a children’s book by Mo Willems from the Elephant & Piggie series, Are You Ready to Play Outside? Gerald the elephant asks Piggie if he is ready to play outside. Piggie can hardly wait to run and jump and play outside. Then it starts to rain and Piggie’s perspective is that it is the end of the world. He cannot play outside. Then he sees two worms playing in the rain and he gains a new perspective. Just as he begins to relish playing in the rain, the rain stops. Now Piggie is again upset. Then Gerald provides rain via his trunk and Piggie is happy again. It is a perfect illustration of how easily we can get stuck and unstuck in a perspective.
It sounds so obvious, yet in my experience it is hard to practice. With the work on the Delta projects, it is easy to adopt one way of looking at issues and to stop asking good questions and get stuck in a perspective even when it no longer serves my stake or most accurately reflects the Truth.
I have been a leader all of my life. I believe all of us can lead, and some of us have a combination of personal traits and skills that means that when everyone on the line takes a step back we are often the one still standing there willing to provide leadership. Ever experience this? I have over and over again.
I rarely say “pick me!” The one experience on USC Student Senate cured me of wanting a career in politics as an elected official. And the burnout from leading nonprofit organizations resulted in a complete redesign of my life at age 49.
Yet over the years I have honed my leadership skills. From leadership roles in 4-H, church youth group, Student Senate, nonprofit boards and organizations, Habitat for Humanity Global Village builds, Friends’ monthly meeting, and in my family, I have life experiences informing my leadership choices in the second half of life. I also have read countless books and am a fellow of the California Agricultural Leadership Program and CTI’s Co-Active Leadership Program.
Those are my credentials, and I continue to learn. You can read for yourself whether I have any wisdom to impart.
I am ready to attempt to synthesize what I have learned. I also believe the challenges we face as humanity today demands a evolution of leadership to something less ego-driven and more collaborative. I hope to engage others in a dialogue about what this looks like in real life.
In my life my leadership journey has taken a turn inward. You can join me if you dare.