What Makes You a Leader?

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Is it your title?  Your reputation?
Is it your status?  Your paycheck?

“If your actions inspire others to dream more, learn more, do more and become more, you are a leader.”

This quote is attributed to John Quincy Adams, but there is apparently no evidence that he actually said it.  Dolly Parton, on the other hand, said,

“If your actions create a legacy that inspires others to dream more, learn more, do more and become more, then, you are an excellent leader.”

Your actions make you a leader.
Anybody can lead, as long as people are willing to follow.
So what makes people follow?

I think it’s actions grounded in:
Conviction
Authenticity
Openness
Inclusion
Transparency

Accountability
Resonance
Collaboration
Belonging
Integrity
Honesty
Humility
Consistency            …what else?

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So:  How do you lead others?  How aware are you of your leadership, day to day, moment to moment?  How intentional are you about it?
What do you lead others to and for?
What is your purpose in leading?
What is your goal for those you lead?

What is your goal for your cause?

What do you want from your followers?
What do they need from you?
How will you make it so that your cause outlives and continues to flourish without you?

Great leaders do not always know the answers to all of these questions.

But they ask and consider them, regularly, honestly, and humbly.

This Year, Call Forth Our Best Selves

 

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I find myself even more self-conscious today than I did five years ago.  I hear fellow Asian-Americans express similar sentiments, especially as the coronavirus crisis escalates.  My friends and I haven’t experienced outright racism, but we’re on the lookout for it, as we see so many others deal with it every day.  Call it hypersensitivity if you wish.  But if you are white, please consider how your race provides you the unearned privilege of never (or at least seldom) having to question whether someone else’s negativity toward you is due to your skin color.

This election year, I’m deciding how I will be and how I will do.  I play with boundaries around media exposure, social media engagement, and conversations on politics.  I want to do it better than I did last time.  Soon after I started my Facebook page c.2008, I intended it to be a monument to my most positive tendencies.  That intention gave way to wrath and fury for much of 2016, ending regrettably in a couple of severed relationships.  At some point I reviewed my posts and found an alarming ratio of negative posts, mostly written during fits of impulsive rage.  That was a wake-up call.

By January 2017 I had recovered at least somewhat.  February 2017 brought a series of “Rules of Engagement” queries on this blog, which I am gratified to reread tonight.  These three years I have trained hard to approach all political conversations with more curiosity, generosity, and commitment to connection.  Some people and topics are still too sensitive to broach, but progress continues.  My training continues alongside my Better Angels tribe members.

I successfully moderated my media consumption these two weeks around impeachment.  I read Lamar Alexander’s statement 3 days ago and considered its purported rationale.  Part of it made sense to me, and still I’m unsatisfied with the whole situation, which I shared on Facebook.  My friends and I exchanged opinions and ideas civilly and respectfully, which I appreciate.

In the end, I believe engagement will be the solution.  In 2016 only 50% of eligible voters cast a ballot.  Of those, a little over half chose Hillary Clinton.  But it wasn’t enough for ‘my side.’  This year we must get the apathetic and disengaged back to the polls. We have nine months to rectify voter access, to connect with those on the fence and invite them down on the side of inclusion, equity, integrity, and respect for humanity.  If our opponents fling excrement, we cannot follow suit.  We must not become the shit-flinging adversaries we say we abhor—no matter which side we’re on.  We must speak from our highest core values, rather than to their lowest words and behaviors.  We must connect deeply with every person’s need to feel seen, heard, understood, accepted, and loved.  I have THE. HARDEST. time considering 45’s innate humanity.  But if I start there, I can handle any conversation with anyone else, and I show any ‘opponent’ why I am a worthy rival and not just an idiot enemy.  And I bring out the worthy rival ahead of the idiot enemy in them.

Well, at least this is the goal, the guiding light I intend to follow this year.  Surely I will fall under shadows sometimes.  But the more I manage to stay in the light, the less I will suffer and the less suffering I will inflict on others.  I intend to call forth my best self, for my sake the sake of all those around me.

 

Friendsourcing Motivation

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Sunrise, Sylvan Dale Guest Ranch, Loveland, Colorado. Photo courtesy of Dr. Anne Dixon

Greetings, friends!  How goes it, halfway through January of the New Year?  How are you doing with those resolutions?  I always feel conflicted about announcing such commitments, preferring to call them ‘intentions’ (see here, here, here, and here!).  I’ve read too many articles dismissing resolutions as mindless, unhelpful, and ultimately a waste of energy.  And yet, the start of a new year naturally prompts reflection and renewed motivation for self-improvement, which are good things.

Once again, taking a more nuanced view helps here.  It’s not that resolutions are bad.  It’s that we need to be thoughtful and realistic about them, as the linked article above suggests.  Whatever we call them, commitments to behavior change can lead us to transformation.  But it’s anything but simple or easy!

My post on experimental questions got a boost in views this past week.  I wonder what prompted that?  I wish I knew who was reading it and why, what they think, and what it means to them?  Since that post was published, I have continued to ask my 4 newest questions, of both patients and myself.  The recent traffic on that post parallels the evolution in my own reflections and answers:

In the coming year, what do you see as the biggest threat to your health?

My hedonist impulses, no question:  Ice cream and office sweets, mostly, but also online washi tape sales and paper, clothing, and shoe stores.

What is the biggest asset?

My friends, also no question, my pit crew.  They encourage me, keep me honest, and lend perspective.  They teach me and inspire me.  They hold me up.

One year from now, what do you want to look back and be able to say about what’s important to you?

In January 2021, I want to look back and say that I got fit again, that I regained the exercise discipline I lost in 2019.  I got control of my eating, decreased my sugar intake by at least half.  I put my phone down and was more present with my kids.  I was more intentional and executed better on how I spend my time and energy overall.  I exercised agency over my life better than ever before.

What support (external to yourself) do you already have and/or may still need to recruit, in order to make that vision a reality?

On November 10 when I posted these questions, I honestly had not answered this one yet.  It was harder than I had anticipated.  Since then, as I continue to ask patients, I see that I’m not the only one stymied.  My first response resembled my patients’, something akin to, “Well, I just have to do it.”  We type-A, independent peeps often rely first and foremost on ourselves.  We don’t ask for help.  And even though I have written and spoken ad nauseum about the importance of support, I found it difficult to identify my own need for it.  This is why I have added the ‘external to yourself’ clarification to the question.  Support comes from somewhere or someone else.  And we all do better when we have it.

***

Friendsourcing Motivation

The whole time, the answer was right there in front of me.  The biggest asset to my health is my friends.  We know that social support (sometimes in the form of peer pressure) can be the key to success in behavior change.  Why else would people attend Weight Watchers meetings, or to go AA?  I need a workout buddy and a healthy eating buddy, I realized—I can tap my assets!  Eureka!

Easier said than done, however.  Who should I ask?  What should it look like?  Over a month or so, I worked out my specifications:

  • I need support from friends, not strangers (thus fitness classes will probably not be my jam)
  • I don’t want to be constrained by schedules with my buddies—flexibility is key
  • I need a two-way arrangement—someone who also has a goal that I can support them in
  • The arrangement must be concrete and accountable, but not feel oppressive

Tadaaaaah—Habit Share*!

On our sunrise walks in Loveland last weekend, two friends from LOH and I agreed to be one another’s buddies.  It was perfect—we all wanted the same things; we just needed an easy way to connect.  One of us, the youngest, most tech-savvy one, found the Habit Share app.  It’s free and perfect.  We each define our own goals, and simply share them with each other online.  We receive notifications when our friends check in, and we send messages of encouragement and solidarity.  It’s perfect!  I have already shared the app with patients and other friends, and am now connected to two more friends.  Our habits range from exercise to reading, to flossing.

Holy COW, what a difference!  Just knowing that I’m tracking my goals, and that my friends are seeing and supporting me, it’s been exponentially easier to motivate and execute these seven days than the entire past year.  It’s easy, aesthetically pleasing, costs no money, and connects me with people I love.  It is–wait for it–PERFECT!

I know, I know, it’s only been a week.  Who knows what all of our app screens will look like in another week, a month, or three months from now?  Will we all still be connected and holding each other up in a year?  Who can say?  But what’s the utility of thinking that far ahead?  Yesterday I set the new goal of getting up early once a week to write.  Today I can check it off.  I still have a chance to say no to ice cream, work out, turn off my phone apps by 10pm, and floss!  My friends will know when I do it, and they won’t judge me if I don’t.  It’s all good, and we can all take it one day at a time.

So, what support (external to yourself) do you have, or may still need to recruit, to make your best-self vision a reality?

*I have no financial or other interests in this business.  In fact, I want to contact them to give them feedback about how to make it better, but I cannot find a ‘contact’ page on their website…

All Good Things Must End

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Setting moon, Sylvan Dale Guest Ranch, Loveland, Colorado.  Photo courtesy of Dr. Karen Cornell

Friends, Leading Organizations to Health has graduated Cohort 11, the Class of 2020.

Ten months ago I started at my Hogwarts, the leadership training program that has definitely made me a better leader.  But more importantly, it made me nine amazing new friends and a much better person.  Today, on the last day of the last retreat, it all came together in the most beautiful way, and I am beyond grateful.

These ten months were the best elective educational experience of my life—they really gave college and med school a run for their money.  We immersed in a curriculum dense with abstract concepts of interpersonal communication and organizational change management.  We then translated the theories into tangible skills in an experiential learning lab, applied to specific challenges brought by my 7 cohort mates and me.  Over four in-person retreats and monthly Zoom calls, we shared, supported, and coached one another in the tenets of relationship-centered leadership.

We bonded in a similar way to residents on call:  Gathered for training, bringing different backgrounds and perspectives, participating in a common curriculum but each with a unique learning path, eventually to disperse and practice in different settings across the country.  We eight now share a connection of stories and struggle that nobody else can know.  We are a tribe.

Thus, I grieved the goodbyes long before we arrived in Loveland this last time.  But I also trusted our master facilitators to help me manage this, by both their loving and authentic presence and the very structure of the program, which is founded on contemplation and self-awareness.  I also felt an abiding faith in the friendships we all grew this past year.  As with my best friends from college and medical school, I knew we would maintain contact and connection, just in a different way.  We can’t stay in the nest forever—now is the time to fly.

In thoughtfully constructed journaling exercises and discussion groups, we reflected, consolidated, and synthesized ten months of learning.  We also examined our personal and professional evolution over this time, growth and movement in fluidity and complexity.  We explored aspirations and imagined the future state of this work in our natural habitats.  Finally, we sat in a closing circle.   Having each shared our own reflections, the group offered each friend observations, affirmations, and well wishes in what I can only describe as the most loving communion.  Each person’s strengths were articulated and amplified.  We acknowledged one another’s challenges.  We celebrated each other’s engagement, perseverance, contributions and triumphs.  Finally, sustained mutual support was extended around the circle, wholeheartedly and without qualification.

In my opinion, we formed the kind of community that we all want to lead.  Tony and Diane led us all by example, deliberately, artfully, and mindfully.  They live the principles they teach; they lovingly and patiently showed us the way.  In the end we discovered our own capacity to each write our own next chapter(s).  By making us feel seen, heard, understood, accepted and loved these ten months, our teachers inspired us to do the same for others.  And that is the strongest foundation for building our houses of positive change agency.

Now we go forth.  We’ got this.

Onward from 2019: Learnings and Intentions

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Friends!  WHAT a year, no?  How are you feeling here at the end?

In this post:  3 key learnings, 3 high intentions, and my 6 recommended life readings.

What resonates with you?

What would you add?

For a thoughtful and inspiring look on the coming year, check out Donna Cameron’s post from yesterday.

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3 Key Learnings of 2019

Complexity

“When we try to pick out anything by itself, we find it hitched to everything else in the Universe.”  –John Muir

“All that you touch, you change.  All that you change, changes you.” –Octavia Butler

We all live in inextricable connection, like it or not, know it or not, want it or not.  Every interaction has potential for benefit and harm, and the scale is exponential.  Some may find this idea daunting, overwhelming, or untenable.  I find it reassuring.  The idea that some cosmic life thread connects us all, that we are made of the same stuff today as that which existed at the dawn of the universe—this gives me peace.  It encourages me that everything I do in good faith could make a difference.  You really never know how far a small gesture or sharing will reach for good.

The 3 Tenets of Relationship-Centered Leadership

Not so much learnings as a synthesis from LOH training, these are the current foundation statements of my personal and aspirational leadership tenets (iterations likely to evolve over time):

  1. Founded on curiosity, connection, and fidelity to a people-centered mission
  2. Attendant to the relational impacts of all decisions, local and global
  3. Respectful of norms and also agile and adaptive to the changing needs of the system

Having defined these ideals for myself, I am now fully accountable to them.  And I hold them as a standard for those who lead me.

Being >> Saying or Doing

Saying and doing compassionate, empathic, and kind things are necessary and noble.  And they are not enough.  These actions ring hollow without honest sincerity behind them.  People feel us before they hear our words.  Our authentic presence, positive or negative, originates from within.  It manifests in posture, facial expression (overt and subtle, intentional and subconscious), movement, and tone and cadence of voice.  Fake it ‘til you make it—saying and doing things because we know we ‘should’—only gets us so far.  We humans possess a keen sense of genuineness—it’s a survival instinct.  If we accept that a meaningful, productive life and effective leadership in particular, require strong, trusting relationships, then we must cultivate true compassion, empathy, and kindness.  That means suspending judgment, managing assumptions, and holding openness to having our perspective changed by all that we encounter (see first key learning above), among other things.  This may be life’s penultimate challenge—our role models include Mother Theresa and the Dalai Lama.

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3 High Intentions for 2020

  1. Continue to ask more and listen better for people’s personal and unique meaning making—not just patients but all people—attend to souls
  2. Let go perfection
    1. All relationships are not great, and it’s not all my fault
    2. Some people/relationships and circumstances challenge my best self and skills more than others
    3. It’s the honest, sincere, good faith effort, and the learning from imperfection and failed attempts that matter
    4. Some relationships are better ended
  3. Guard against judgment, arrogance, and cynicism

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6 Recommended Life Readings—the 6 most personally impactful books I have read in the last decade:

The Art of Possibility by Rosamund Stone Zander and Benjamin Zander.  Scarcity thinking, competition, and looking out for number one hold us all back.  Stepping fully into our central selves, claiming our full collective agency for creativity and collaboration, and manifesting all the good we are capable of—that is the discovery of this book for me.

Start With Why by Simon Sinek.  In my opinion, the most eloquent and resonant writing on the purpose-driven life.  The freedom and creativity that flows forth therefrom—it all just gives me goosebumps.  Sinek’s The Infinite Game may eventually make this list too, once I have integrated its content and learnings more fully.

Rising Strong by Brené Brown.  Strength and vulnerability, confidence and shame, individuality and belonging—these are the essential human paradoxes that Sister Brené reconciles with gritty aplomb through real life stories as well as grounded theory research.

Big Magic by Elizabeth Gilbert.  Be you, all you, all in.  Love thyself—flaws, failures, and falls all included.  Make things.  Because that is what we are put here to do, for ourselves and for one another.

Leadership and Self-Deception by The Arbinger Institute.  Perhaps no book explains the profound importance of being better in order to do better, better than this.  And it took me almost all year to really comprehend, and then begin to apprehend, the concept.

Being Mortal by Atul Gawande, MD.  I started and finished this one on vacation this past week.  Dr. Gawande is my favorite physician writer.  I consider this book required reading for all physicians for sure, but really for all people .  “The death rate from life is 100%,” a wise patient once told me.  In modern western society and culture, multiple intertwined and complex forces hamstring our ability to live and die well and at peace.  This book is a brilliant compilation of heartrending personal and professional stories, neatly folded with history, research, and practical information for improving this sad state of things.  It is also a guide to the hard conversations that we all should really have—now.  It has both validated what I already do in my practice, and profoundly changed how I will do things hereafter.  Thank you, Dr. Gawande.

*****

Best wishes for Peace, Joy, Love, and Connection to all.

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A Laser, the Sun, and a Lightbulb:  A Story of Self

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Friends, how do you decide to spend your time and energy?

Multiple times this year, friends, colleagues and I expressed the idea, “Either Hell Yes or No,” meaning we came into stark view of our core values and primary objectives.  We then let them lead the way to confidently making important decisions, such as what work and which clients to engage, candidates to interview and hire, and projects to pursue.

Three friends have read and recommended Essentialism by Greg McKeown, and one kindly gifted me a copy many years ago.  A quick summary:

Essentialism: The Disciplined Pursuit of Less

Have you ever found yourself stretched too thin?
Do you sometimes feel overworked and underutilized?
Do you feel motion sickness instead of momentum?
Does your day sometimes get hijacked by someone else’s agenda?
Have you ever said “yes” simply to please and then resented it?

If you answered yes to any of these, the way out is the Way of the Essentialist.

I have started and restarted the book over the years, and have yet to finish.  It makes me feel bad about myself, as if being divergent in my attention and activities is somehow a personal deficiency and failure.  A few years ago I listened to The Subtle Art of Not Giving a Fuck by Mark Manson, and liked it a lot.  The message seems similar to me, and yet I did not feel diminished by it.  As I discussed with my friends this summer, once again I remembered Start With Why, one of my favorite books which, arguably, also posits a similar thesis.  What follows here is the record of a stream of consciousness I had the day after my birthday.   Much credit is owed to my friends, who help me keep the conversation and learning going over these many years.

A Laser

First, there is absolutely value in focus.  I see it as akin to knowing and living my Why—my core values, purpose, and mission.  But there is a shadow to this virtue:  narrowed vision and rigidity.  Singular focus on an exclusive goal risks missing a wider context of experience, missing possibility.  Maybe that’s how I see the message of Essentialism—like a LASER—straight, focused, one wavelength only, directed, landing on one point, unbending, predetermined.  This is not me, I thought, the day after turning 46.

The Sun

So what’s the opposite of a laser, then?  The SUN, I thought joyfully.  Full spectrum light, generative, warming, inviting, invigorating.  It reaches everywhere.  It is intrinsically energized, self-sustaining, BIG.  But it can also be damaging.  It should be taken in measured doses or it’s not safe.  It can also be harnessed; we can absorb and store its energy for later use.  It is a paradox—so powerful, and yet blocked by a thin sheet of paper.  It is celestial, mystical.  Oh yes, I love the Sun.

At first I thought I would much rather be like the sun than a laser.  But… really?  Could I seriously compare myself to the source of all light and life on our planet, the center of our solar system around which all other heavenly bodies orbit, the gravitational focus of our universe?

[Insert googly eye, open mouth, hanging tongue emoji here]

A Lightbulb

Teeheeheeee, yes, this feels much better.

A lightbulb can brighten, enlighten.  It warms.  It sheds light where there may otherwise be darkness.

There are different kinds of lightbulbs, all for different contexts, serving various needs—but their essential Why is the same.  It’s their How that varies.  They are adaptable.

A lightbulb requires an energy source.  I must be connected to that which sustains me, where I can recharge.  And a bulb can get electricity from anything that generates it—solar, wind, hydro, a human on a bike, fire, steam—I can derive my power from any of a myriad of sources.

A bulb must be seated in a socket, in constant contact with its energy source—a reliable circuit must always be present in order to maintain its light.  I cannot think of a more perfect metaphor for my deep, thick web of friends who hold me up every day.  Disconnected, I go dark.

Lightbulbs can also burn out.  Hmmm.

I have decided that I am a shape-shifting, metamorphosing lightbulb.  I change myself in my socket, or change sockets, giving different kinds of light, depending on the room I’m in and what the room needs.  I can be incandescent, fluorescent, LED.  I can be your flashlight, your headlamp, your night light, or your reading light. Hey, it’s my life analogy, I can invent it however I want!

All of that said, I think I’ve tried to be too many bulbs lately.  My light flickers a bit today.  In 2020 I intend to look a little harder at my all of my bulb selves, and perhaps shelve one or two for a while.  Or rotate myself more slowly, intentionally, and mindfully.  Sit in my sockets good and long, serving those around me with deeper presence, brighter light, a fuller spectrum of myself at a time.  Yes, that feels better.

Onward.

 

November 29:  Reflection Makes Me Better

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NaBloPoMo 2019

How was 2019 for you, friends?

Looking back, what stands out?  What gives you pride and joy?  Guilt and regret?  What’s the best thing you learned?  What do you look forward to the most in 2020?

In the first post of this month, I described my last role play experience, one marked by intensity around domestic violence and dense communication skills practice.  Dr. Orit Kalnieri-Miller led the workshop, and I will forever be grateful for her groundbreaking work incorporating reflective practice in medical education.

Wikipedia says reflective practice is

 the ability to reflect on one’s actions so as to engage in a process of continuous learning.[1] According to one definition it involves “paying critical attention to the practical values and theories which inform everyday actions, by examining practice reflectively and reflexively. This leads to developmental insight”.[2]A key rationale for reflective practice is that experience alone does not necessarily lead to learning; deliberate reflection on experience is essential.[3][4]

Regular reflective practice, I think, is mindfulness in action.

This whole month I have been reflecting.  Looking back, seeking patterns.  What really does make me better?  Better for whom?  For What?  How does it all help me going forward?  I have probed my habits, my relationships, roles, activities, ideals and attitudes.  Writing the reflections every night as a blogging challenge probably does not give each idea much time to sink in.  But now they are recorded.  They are a collection that I can review over time; I can revise, rewrite, and continue the reflection-learning-practice cycle of self-improvement.  Reading past posts reminds me of where I was then, which allows comparison and contrast to today.

I am, still and always, me.  I’m also always learning and changing.  Reflection helps me to know myself better and more deeply, to claim and exercise my authentic agency in service of the causes that matter to me.  Reflection keeps me focused on my Why.  In the coming year, it will help me identify, refine, and enact my next Just Cause.  Very exciting!

But maybe the best part is that reflective practice is not a solitary activity.  When I have any opportunity to get feedback from those whose perspectives I respect, the learning is that much deeper and more meaningful, even (especially) if it challenges and agitates me.  People mirrors do not always show the reflection I want, or the self-delusions I believe–they call me out.  But sometimes they show that I’m living exactly and fully in my integrity and values.  Both are equally valuable.

So I will continue looking for reflections everywhere.  They keep me honest, and that makes me better.