Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Leading, Laziness and both at once.

I've come to the conclusion that there are two kinds of leaders; those who lead because they understand this is the best way to help get things done, and those who lead because they don't want to work. Which one are you?

For some, leadership is a gift. It's a strange gift in a way. Most gifts make us happy. They are things we like. Leaders, though gifted, are compelled to lead and are terminally unhappy in any setting where they perceive poor leadership and where they are unable to lead. I'm using they, but could just as easily use I. (That's for Dee Clark, who is a leader and a friend, but who insists that in any meaningful conversation the most powerful pronoun is the first person. She's right about this. Try it. A subject for another day).

Leaders who are compelled to lead are born leaders, and leaders are always born. They are made up of a curious mix of personality traits that add together to create a leader. There is no way to teach someone or to force someone to lead. (It is important to point out that leadership and management are different. People can be trained to manage). Trying to force someone to lead is like trying to force someone to sing. Eventually they'll do it, but you will be sorry you forced them.

Gifted leaders are not always good leaders, or good managers. The underlying gifts do not in and of themselves create a good leader. Good leaders are constant learners. People who understand their gifting is both a blessing and a curse. A good leader is sensitive to the fact that without the right understanding it is relatively easy to lead people in the wrong direction. Good leadership takes work. Listening, understanding, teaching, a high degree of perception, an inside and outside focused view - all of these things are elements of good leadership.

For some reason our culture seems to be very good at creating leaders who lead simply because they don't want to do. These people may have some of the gifts of leadership, and they use these gifts to gain leadership positions within organizations of all kinds, but when it comes down to the process of actually leading they fall down. They fail to realize that effective leadership is not about the position. They fail to realize that true leaders lead from the bottom and not from the top. Leading from the bottom takes work. By and large, these people seem to have looked at the various possibilities for making a living and decided that the least amount of work seemed to have been done by people in the highest places. Our culture reinforces this view. In the same way that every sitcom in the last 20 years has showcased imbecilic parents, they have also shown poor managers. People who get paid more to do nothing. I want that job too.

Leaders in this category are the worst kind of people in my book. They are gifted and they choose not to use their gifts in the best way. Whether in the workplace, in charitable organizations or churches their impact is endemic. They leave demoralized, disenchanted, angry people behind and the impact of this can last a lifetime. Want to know if a leader is good or bad? Take a little time and talk to the people who are trying to lead with him or her. Are they motivated? Is their path clear? Do they feel empowered? Are the things they're doing consistent with the organizational mission? If so, chances are you've found a winner. But if they're frustrated, or unclear about their path; if they are lethargic, or if they are doing things that are antithetical to the mission of the organization, you've likely found a loser.

I've probably been a winner and a loser at different times in my life. At the moment, with little to lead, I'm probably nothing - and that makes me worse in many respects. Which one are you? In the process of leading are you taking the time to cultivate and empower those who have chosen to work with you? Are you a voracious learner? Do you read everything you can get your hands on with a critical eye to see what can be learned? About how to lead? About how to do the things your team is doing? Do you listen? Are you open to criticism? Do you encourage criticism?

This one thing is true ... What's next is up to you.

Thursday, April 24, 2008

Driving, Cultures and Cursing

I hate to admit it but I'm a racist behind the wheel. In any other situation I am almost completely colorblind, but when I get behind the wheel I'm transformed into the most vile form of white supremacist.

I'm not sure what it is about some cultures, predominantly Asian cultures, that causes them to be such poor drivers. But I think it is empirically true that they are just that. Poor drivers. There, I said it out loud and in public. Bring on the protests! Picket the house. I don't care. What I'm really trying to figure out is, how do those women drive with those visors over their faces? Can the sun's harmful rays really penetrate the steel and insulation in the roof of the car?

Alright, now that your knickers are in a knot I'll equivocate. Not ALL Asians are bad drivers. In fact, some are remarkably good. Almost as good as me. Not ALL white people are good drivers. Far from it. In fact, some are just as bad. Other cultures seem to fall in between.

You've all heard of DWI - Driving While Intoxicated. I think we need a some new categories .... DWA - Driving While Asian, works as a way to explain some of the slow and quasi erratic behaviors. Even worse is DWAOTP. Driving While Asian On The Phone. By the way, there is also DWO - Driving While Old, but that's the subject for another day. (By far the most dangerous driver is a DWAO&OTP).

I'm not sure why our elected officials are working so hard to eradicate general DWOTP. This merely reduces the skills of the average driver to roughly those of a DWA. So if we're going to have laws about DWOTP, I think we should also have laws about DWA, but we all know that will never happen. Studies will show that there really is no difference between the records of the various races. Heaven help the insurance company that red lines people by culture, regardless of the facts.

All of this said, it is important to point out that by far the worst drivers remain DWTS - Driving While Terminally Stupid. You've seen these people. They're all over. They drive too fast in school zones and parking lots, and in a different form they get on freeways going 8 miles an hour while they search for a break large enough in traffic - apparently roughly 4 miles long - that is large enough to give them the opportunity to sit back off the steering wheel, stop staring in their side mirror, catch up to traffic and get back OTP. These people can come in any color, size or age and I think they should be permanently relegated to public transportation.

If I've offended anyone I'm sorry. Like I said, I'm only a racist behind the wheel. In other walks life I actually celebrate the cultures we live with. Myriad ethnic groups have permeated Southern California society and I think the cultural fabric they create is an entirely beautiful thing.

That's 10 minutes for today ....

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Young folk.

Masses of people have suggested that I should blog. (OK four). I'm not really sure why I should blog. It seems an odd thing in some ways to simply write something and post it for all to see. But I'm susceptible to influence, so ... here goes...

I'm sitting at my new counter top, looking out my new windows at my new patio and another beautiful California day. I'm acutely aware of the blessings in my life. A great family, terrific friends (including a bunch of teens and twenty somethings whose energy and outlook always gives me hope for the future - more on that later), something to do every day that feels useful, and lots of things that interest me.

I'm also acutely aware that not everyone in the world is so lucky and I've thought about that some. There are a lot of things we can't change. There are a few we can. I've decided to concentrate my efforts on the area around where I live, and particularly on the young people here. For many in my generation, the stark differences between our own upbringing and what our kids and their friends and acquaintances experience are frightening. To be sure, there is much to be frightened about. Kids are challenged with everything early. The drug and sex subculture is pervasive. Inputs from childhood cartoons to adult sitcoms teach kids that their parents are idiots - and reality all to often mimics art. Through it all, kids soldier on.
My generation seems to think that simply because these things are true, kids must just, pretty much, suck. They as much as say so. I think we're wrong. I think kids, and the young adults they become are remarkable. They live through the challenges of their culture and in the midst of it they find something to cling to, something they like and enjoy and sometimes something that gives them hope and they cling to that and they thrive.

"Cool" is different too. Cool was easy when I was a kid. If you were good looking at athletic you were cool. If you weren't you coped. Cool applied to the whole school - to the whole town really. You knew the cool kids from any school at a glance. (Pretty shallow huh?) Today, cool applies within a thousand microcosmic subcultures. Kids don't have to be cool for the whole school, they can be cool within the confines of their chosen groups and relationships. To be sure, they can be "uncool" too and the loss of anonymity in the smaller surrounds might make this harder than it was for me. I'll leave that to the experts.

I only gave myself 10 minutes a day for this. If you like it, let me know. If you think it sucks - let me know that too! If you have a different opinion, by all means - weigh in!