Core values and principles can sustain and inspire you during challenging times, and the more you practice and embody them, the more likely you are to become a wiser leader. Paul D. Houston, executive director emeritus of the American Association of School Administrators, and Stephen L. Sokolow, a founding partner and executive director of the Center for Empowered Leadership, offer eighteen core leadership values and principles to help you do the right things, in the right way, at the right time, and for the right reasons. The core values you’ll learn include how to focus on the positive; empower and uplift others; operate from a base of compassion; and recognize the seeds of wisdom. Wise leaders view all people as having natural gifts, and it’s important to help them grow. What’s more, supporting and valuing people encourages them to do more for you and for the organization. Enhance organizational productivity, creativity, and capacity by learning and applying eighteen core values of The Wise Leader. “Never will you find such a constellation of distilled wisdom on leadership for all circumstances.” —Michael Fullan, professor emeritus, OISE/University of Toronto
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The Wise Leader
Doing the Right Things for the Right Reasons
By PAUL D. HOUSTON, STEPHEN L. SOKOLOW, Robert W. Cole
iUniverse, LLCCopyright © 2013 Center for Empowered Leadership
All rights reserved.
The Wisdom of Our Unique Life Lessons
A worldview to which we subscribe is that this place where we live is "earth school." As in all schools, there are lessons to be learned and skills to be mastered. As human beings, we are given the opportunity to learn our life lessons and to grow—or not to grow. Each of us has an individualized curriculum. As we master each life lesson, new ones present themselves in an ongoing array of challenges and opportunities. Knowing this, the wise leader is ever alert for the lessons that may be embedded in the challenges or obstacles he or she confronts. The wise leader is a reflective practitioner who continually tries to learn, grow, and master each life lesson both personally and professionally.
When Steve's son Brian was in his early teens, a little over twenty years ago, he came home from summer camp with a ring in his newly pierced ear. To say that Steve was angry would be putting it mildly. Prior to that summer, Brian had broached the topic of piercing with his father, who made his views about the subject quite clear. His father told him that it wasn't a good idea for him to put holes in his body and that it wasn't manly. It was something that was okay for girls but not for boys. While away from home, Brian chose to disobey his father and have his ear pierced anyway. To buttress his case, Brian brought a letter from his fellow campmates saying how cool Brian looked with his new earring and how all of his friends had decided to do the same thing. Steve was really angry; he thought about all the things he could do to punish his son.
A friend of Steve's happened to be present when Steve first learned what Brian had done. Steve's friend recounted examples from his own life of his own children having done similar things as they were growing up. He said that he had blown his top and that his anger over what he had seen as a challenge to his parental authority had created a serious breach in his relationship with his children. He told Steve, "Let me tell you a life lesson I learned as a result of what happened between me and my children. You can decide if you want to risk what happened to me or take a different course." He told Steve that in close relationships, certainly with immediate family and very close friends, any given episode or interaction between you and the other person is never as important as the relationship itself. "Always remember," he said, "that the relationship is more important than what the person may have done or failed to do. If you keep that in mind, it will affect the way you choose to deal with whatever happens between you and the other person."
Steve took his friend's advice to heart and chose to learn the life lesson the easy way. He allowed Brian to keep his earring but insisted on some controls over where and when it would be worn.
Using Our Experiences to Grow Personally and Professionally
Sometimes solving a problem requires you to behave in a different way. In effect, to deal appropriately with whatever you are encountering requires that you make a shift, which necessitates growth either professionally or personally. We suggest that when you are encountering difficulty, in addition to trying to solve the problem at hand, ask yourself whether what's happening is, in effect, a message from the universe telling you that it's time for you to grow. People tend to look outside of themselves for explanations as to why things are happening in their lives; they don't necessarily ask themselves the question, "Is there something internally, within me, that needs to change?"
There's a common tendency to resist life's lessons instead of accepting or even embracing them. Leaders gain in wisdom when they can do just that, when they can say, "What a great problem I'm facing. Bring it on! Let me fully appreciate the whole thing." When you face your problems from this new perspective, they tend to go away, or shrink and shrivel up. Yet prior to doing that, they seemed almost insurmountable. Sometimes embracing a lesson allows you to learn it fully, and then move past it; if you resist the lesson, you can't get past it because you're standing in opposition to it. There's a wall there that you're trying to overcome. By moving toward the problem rather than away from it, you may find an opening to get through, or even a way around it, and suddenly find yourself standing on the other side.
When you embrace a problem, it is important to recognize that there may be a lesson in it for you. You are the participant, but you're also the observer of whatever is unfolding. In the role of observer, step back—not just to gain perspective, but also to think about what lesson is there for you before embracing it.
Life Experiences Can Promote Our Spiritual Growth
Since this is earth school, everything you experience is a life lesson to promote your spiritual growth. Every obstacle, every stumbling block is, in essence, a steppingstone toward greater growth. It's easy not to see things in this way because life's events often hurt or are difficult. Life is far different from school, however. In life, first you have the test and then you have the lesson; in school, on the other hand, the sequence is reversed. Life is a much tougher and more demanding environment because you're always being tested so you can learn, grow, and move past whatever level you're on. The only way you can do that is through facing and overcoming challenges. You rarely grow in easy circumstances. Life is like spiritual isometrics. You have to keep pushing and pulling to build the spiritual muscle you need to move forward.
When things are difficult or they don't feel right or are not going well, ask yourself this question, "What is the spiritual lesson here that I need to pay attention to?" It is helpful to ask yourself that question aloud, as though you are addressing it to the universe, because frequently the lesson is not readily apparent. Often it takes reflection and prayer to gain insight as to exactly what the lesson is—whether you need to open up or loosen up or find a better balance, or be more compassionate, and so forth. The supply of lessons created to assist every one of us in growing spiritually is limitless. The first challenge is to identify and understand the nature of the lesson at hand. When you've done that, you've taken an important step toward mastering that particular lesson. Think of the process as a series of skills you need to acquire and ask yourself, "What skill is it that I need to cultivate in order to meet the particular challenges I am confronting at this moment?"
Problems Are Opportunities in Disguise
One of the attributes of wise leadership is an awareness that all problems have opportunities and possibilities embedded within them. Problems are lessons that can move you forward, sometimes even leading to major life breakthroughs. We subscribe to the notion that no door closes without another one opening. There is a pattern or cycle in life in which what looks like a negative often contains the seeds of something positive because it opens up the next opportunity. It is the possibility behind the problem that offers hope. That's why wise leaders cultivate optimism, and why this perspective is so important.
In Paul's personal life, the ending of one relationship opened up the possibility of another, much better relationship coming along, which would not have been possible if the other one had not ended. So what could have been regarded as a sad negative experience (one relationship ending) actually became a prelude to the next possibility. We believe that every problem has something within it that can be turned into something positive. Within negative events, there is a kernel of something positive if we look for it, name it as such, and then empower it by giving it energy. It is incumbent upon wise leaders to show people the positive potential inherent in the problems they are confronting.
Our nation will never forget the events of 9/11, one of the most terrible events ever to occur on American soil; yet even within that unimaginable anguish and pain has been the opportunity for bravery, heroism, people coming together, outpourings of generosity, caring, and compassion, and a renewed sense of patriotism and the resolve to defeat international terrorism. Even within this most horrific of problems, the possibility of something positive existed.
Clouds Actually Do Have Silver Linings
While some people believe that behind every silver lining is a dark cloud, we hold the opposite view. From a literal perspective, clouds distribute the water that nourishes all life, and under the right conditions that water produces a rainbow, which from biblical times has served as a symbol of possibility and promise—a silver lining.
When circumstances are cloudy, wise leaders need to ask themselves, "What is the silver lining in this situation?" If you don't ask yourself that question, you may miss discovering a way to take advantage of the cloud. Wise leaders are able to take advantage of clouds and darkness by seeing the light or silver lining that can come from seemingly negative circumstances. They have the proactive ability to create a better day by seizing the negative moment and inverting it. In the same way that valleys help give meaning to mountain heights, negative circumstances can be used to illuminate contrasting positive possibilities. By encouraging people to look for silver linings, wise leaders can help them to become possibility thinkers.
If wise leaders not only look for silver linings themselves, but also encourage the people with whom they work to search for the positives within cloudy events or cloudy circumstances, there will be a positive multiplier effect. People may even see different silver linings in the same cloud. Helping people in your organization to process events in this way will help them grow. Wise leaders can challenge others by asking, "What is the positive opportunity here, the silver lining, and can you find it?" When people are given the opportunity to discuss and explore problems from this perspective, you may be surprised by how often they will actually find a silver lining.
Life Lessons Can Be Learned the Hard Way or the Easy Way
How you respond to life lessons is entirely your choice. You can choose to resist the lesson, which makes it much more difficult; resistance creates friction, friction creates heat, and heat burns. When you resist a lesson, you end up burning yourself. Or you can embrace the lesson, which makes the whole process easier. Embracing the lesson at hand doesn't necessarily mean that it will be easily learned, but it may not take you as long to gain insight and grow. Resistance tends to slow everything down. Our attitude often determines how hard or how easy the lessons are in our lives. Some people have extremely hard lives but are able to march right through their lessons, while others don't face that much difficulty, but whatever difficulty they do have seems to end up being magnified. It's not the lessons themselves as much as our reaction to them that makes things difficult; some people really do make mountains out of molehills. People with a strong sense of faith often find that their lessons are easier, less overwhelming, and less lengthy.
Many people deny things that are happening to them. They fail to see the lesson at hand or simply try to rationalize it away. However, the cosmos is mysteriously constructed in such a way that your lesson will not go away just because you attempt to go away from it. The lesson you need to grow pursues you relentlessly in various guises, and it will escalate until you can no longer ignore it. Lessons are like a physical illness that can be treated fairly easily if you go to the doctor right away and take the prescribed remedy, but if you ignore the symptoms and warning signs, over time the illness becomes more serious. So we all need to ask, "How can I address my challenges at the lowest possible level before they grow, and grow in undesirable ways?"
The Weaknesses within Our Strengths Help Us to Understand Life Lessons
Whatever people do best belies an inherent concomitant weakness in their abilities. For example, someone who is very humanistic will sometimes hesitate in making a tough decision or in doing something that will be hurtful to someone else, even though it should be done for the good of the organization. So that extreme humanity also has the power to make a person overly sensitive. There's a teaching in Taoism that too much emphasis on being pretty makes one ugly. In other words, too much emphasis on anything that is positive reveals the weakness within that same character trait. Someone who's really skilled at making money could end up by being greedy, and so forth.
When people appreciate those things that they excel at, it can create a blind spot within them. They might say, "Don't talk to me about X because I'm really good at X." In your areas of strength, it seems counterintuitive that you might also be weak or vulnerable. The last place you might think to examine when you're having a problem is one of your strengths, and yet that's the place it may be most helpful to explore when identifying and grappling with life lessons. Because this seems to be counterintuitive, it can come as a surprise to learn that people have weaknesses embedded within their strengths, and vice versa. This is a fractal that mirrors the relationship between chaos and order in the universe at large. Chaos theory reveals an ongoing dance between chaos and order where embedded within order are seeds of chaos, and vice versa. Perhaps this relationship is best symbolized by the yin-yang symbol. Within the white yang energy is a small black dot of yin energy; conversely, within the black yin energy is a small white dot of yang energy. The wise leader knows this and looks where others won't.
Each Lesson Mastered Opens a Gateway to the Next Lesson
Yogi Berra observed, "It's not over until it's over." With respect to life lessons, however, it's never over, because each lesson leads to the next one. We never exhaust the syllabus for our lives. As Roseanne Rosannadana said, "You know, it's always something; if it's not one thing, it's something else."
Here's an irony for you: the mastery of a life lesson leads to the next one, but so does the failure of a life lesson. Either way, there's always another lesson awaiting you. But success at a life lesson means you advance, while failure means you must repeat the same lesson. Repeating it usually means that whatever lesson you're facing is presented to you in a more severe form. It's like retention in third grade in elementary school. If you fail the lesson, instead of being promoted you have to repeat third grade to master it, but this time you have an even tougher teacher. Mastery means you're promoted to the next grade and a new set of lessons.
Life is structured so that every time we reach some level of mastery, another level begins. It's as if the ceiling of one level becomes the floor of the next—much like going from the top class in middle school to the bottom class in high school. This progression repeats itself again and again throughout our lives. Now you see the appropriateness of the term "earth school"!
Embedded in this whole process is the notion of movement. If you master a lesson and reach the next stage, yet do not continue to grow, then you stagnate. There really is no rest for the weary. You are never going to reach a stage where there are no new lessons to confront. The wise leader knows that it doesn't matter how wealthy you are or how healthy you are or how successful you are—the cycle is unending.
Each Ending Creates the Opportunity for a New Beginning
Steve's youngest son went through a divorce. He grieved over the loss of the relationship, but in the end it created the opportunity for him to form a new relationship with someone else—a relationship that was much healthier than the first. This same kind of transformative experience may also happen with the loss of a job and with other endings. As events in our lives come to an end, it seems to create openings for other events to unfold. What we do with those new opportunities is always up to us. We subscribe to the adage that when one door closes, another opens. That's a helpful perspective to have because when things are ending, we may be so focused on the ending, or the loss we are experiencing, that we can fail to recognize the doorway of opportunity that is opening.
Excerpted from The Wise Leader by PAUL D. HOUSTON, STEPHEN L. SOKOLOW, Robert W. Cole. Copyright © 2013 Center for Empowered Leadership. Excerpted by permission of iUniverse, LLC.
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Table of Contents
Part I, 1,
1. The Wisdom of Our Unique Life Lessons, 3,
2. The Wisdom of Revering All Living Beings, 14,
3. The Wisdom of Focusing on the Positive, 24,
4. The Wisdom of Trust, 34,
5. The Wisdom of Walking the Talk, 43,
6. The Wisdom of Fighting for What's Right, 55,
Part II, 67,
7. The Wisdom of Knowing That Light Attracts the Dark, 69,
8. The Wisdom of Balance, 81,
9. The Wisdom of Empowering and Uplifting Others, 95,
10. The Wisdom of Synergy, 107,
Part III, 121,
11. The Wisdom of Paying Attention, 123,
12. The Wisdom of Having an Attitude of Gratitude, 135,
13. The Wisdom of Keeping a Focus on the Now, 154,
Part IV, 173,
14. The Wisdom of Serving Others, 175,
15. The Wisdom of Operating from a Base of Compassion, 188,
16. The Wisdom of Hope over Fear, 204,
17. The Wisdom of Love, 223,
18. The Wisdom of Forgiveness, 234,
About the Authors, 251,
Selected Bibliography, 255,