Think, Think, Think

No problem can be solved [Or nation renewed] from the same level of consciousness that created it.



Robert Greenleaf asked in Servant Leadership:

Who is the enemy? Who is holding back more rapid movement to the better society that is reasonable and possible with available resources? Who is responsible for the mediocre performance of so many of our institutions? Who is standing in the way of a larger consensus on the definition of the better society and paths to reaching it?

The good people who look the other way–not the evil, stupid and apathetic people who have so much power and influence today–are the enemy. The good people—at all socioeconomic levels–who have been lazy, asleep or afraid for a long time need to wake-up, courage-up and get energized and engaged with the future of their country.

They can begin by making a considered decision on their choice for the next President of the United States.

Progress has been made: Millions of people awakened this presidential election cycle as pent-up anger finally surfaced. Many millions more need to rouse themselves. Some on the left call for political revolution; some on the right call for a return to a romanticized past. Many are clueless.

For the newly awakened, now and in the months ahead, furious worship and hooting and hollering fall short of what is required. The roused have additional responsibilities: They must see the reality of America today through clear eyes so they can understand her needs—not just their wants and needs. Many suffer, I believe, fuzzy thinking. All of us must use discernment as we go deeper than our first emotional reactions to evaluate the candidates and their visions for America.

In Ethics For The New Millennium, The Dalai Lama wrote of wise discernment: “…involves constantly checking our outlook and asking ourselves whether we are being broad-minded or narrow-minded. Have we taken into account the overall situation or are we considering only specifics? Is our view short-term or long-term? Are we being short-sighted or clear-eyed, we need to think, think, think.”

Be aware of self-righteousness: “Be careful when you fight the monsters, lest you become one [Friedrich Nietzsche].” Observe those who demonize, scapegoat and marginalize others to justify bad behavior contrary to American values. We die for our values. If we cast them aside for personal gain, we are lost.

Political rallies are not rock concerts to thrill or entertain us, or manipulate us and energize our more sordid sides. Going to a rally and supporting a candidate because he or she made you feel good or is the hot topic trending on Twitter today is not thinking straight. Rallies are but one element of a long, exhaustive and rigorous process. Keep the twists and turns of the daily campaign grind in perspective. Not every big deal is a big deal.

We need to listen, observe and learn the positions of the candidates and how they differ with one another—it doesn’t take long. Then we need to “think, think, think” about the character, experience and temperament of each aspirant along with the practicality of their visions and the specificity of how they would make their aspirations for America real. We should check out our assumptions about candidates: are they based on fact, fiction or opinion? How do our values line up with those of the contenders?

On November 8, 2016, the United States will get the president and the future of America that the majority of voters deserve. Will the voters choose to move forward or backward?

If America ever needed divine intervention it might be now.

Losing Our Way

If our nation is to be changed for the better, ordinary citizens will have to intervene aggressively in their own fate. The tremendous power in the hands of the moneyed interests will not be relinquished voluntarily. Bob Herbert in Losing Our Way


I just read Herbert’s painful book about the reality of life in America and her decline. This readable book examines crumbling infrastructure, the willful destruction of the middle class, the corporatization of public education, failed wars in which America met evil with evil and shamed our nation, and the disastrous national and political leadership of incompetence and malfeasance by those trusted to lead our nation. The system has become rigged against everyone but the wealthy.

The stories of real people told in raw detail hurt emotionally and demand that we examine our souls; the factual presentation asks us to think and turn our backs on ignorance.

The two sentences I quoted above tell us what citizens must do if we want to renew our nation and our democracy and restore our values and the American Dream for future generations. If we cannot find the energy to intervene in our own destinies, then we will continue the slow and painful decline and will lose our democracy to those who care only about power and money.

The power of the masses lies in demonstration and voting. As people create a movement for equality leaders will emerge. For leaders, we need heart-felt populists like Elizabeth Warren. People who care about everyday people and the involvement and engagement of all in our collective lives.

These leaders can imagine and can articulate a positive and value-driven vision for the future (not just oppose what is wrong) and have the courage to fight for their vision because those who profit from the status-quo will fight without mercy and they will fight dirty to keep what they have even against national interest.

The economic game is rigged against everyday people. Leaders who want to compromise with extremists (always a lose/win negotiation) and avoid conflict, no matter how decent and well-intentioned they are, are not the right people to lead an economic war. Our leaders need to be spiritual warriors who lead from their hearts and values and can also hold people accountable and balance a budget.

Transformative leaders strive to shape the future and mold our collective destiny in a symbiotic relationship with followers. They do not fight to return to a romanticized past that never really existed.

Robert Greenleaf author of Servant Leadership wrote that the problems in the world are not the evil, immature, neurotic, and the irresponsible. They have always been with us and always will be. The problem, Greenleaf wrote, is not them but the good people—people like you and me—who have fallen asleep.

Anthropologist Margaret Mead wrote: “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has.”

Historian Howard Zinn: “If there is going to be change, real change, it will have to work its way from the bottom up, from the people themselves. That’s how change happens.”

We are responsible. God will not save us.

Moral Courage

A man wrote me:

The seduction of the hiring process convinced me I had arrived in an organization that would embrace my methods. A place I thought my heart and talents could finally grow and flourish. I offered too much of myself unprotected and was “wacked” into reality.

I watched as the president of the company berated, humiliated, and then fired a good and stable sales representative. He did this in front of all the employees of the company. I sat and squirmed in my seat, metaphorically visualizing the owner shooting a hostage in the head to instill fear and ultimate control over the rest of us. The president noticed my discomfort. He asked, in a threatening manner, if I wanted to stay with the company. I felt compelled to quit on the spot, which I did. I managed to speak my mind a little as I left. I am now home, unemployed and recovering. (I wrote this man’s story in an essay entitled, Bearing Witness).

This story exemplifies moral courage: doing what you believe is right in the face of loss, criticism, rejection, or retaliation.

Over 18 years in many leadership and change agent roles at the Star Tribune newspaper and 13 years as a consultant to leaders of dysfunctional organizations, people tested my commitment to my values many times. The decision to stand up for my values was sometimes painful, and I wrestled with self-doubt at times. But I had vowed to live a value driven life, and I believed in value driven leadership. The values my parents had taught me were deepened and solidified as a young Secret Service agent where I experienced the might of ethics, excellence, and purpose and as a lost soul in a tough alcohol treatment center where I came to believe that my life depended on a value driven life.

I abhor rankism, dishonesty, disrespect, unfairness, mediocrity, and irresponsibility. I value respect, justice, fairness, integrity, excellence, and responsibility. I never thought of myself as having moral courage: I tried to be a good person and leader and fought through my anxiety and fears to do what I believed was right the best way I knew how.

Acting from our values often comes at a cost. I know well the fear of losing a job, and the loss of status and relationships along with humiliation and marginalization. It takes courage to stand alone in danger, to defy the unwritten rules, to illuminate the dark side, and to go against the cultural grain.

Why take the risks of moral courage at all? I do it to support values and to live an honest and authentic life and to do what I can to make the world  healthier and more ethical. And to stand up for those with less power and to go against the villains of our world. I do it so I can like myself. Aristotle said we become brave by doing brave acts. Think of moral courage as a muscle that grows stronger with use.

Robert Greenleaf, author of Servant Leadership, wrote that the problem in the world is not the evil, lazy, crazy, immature, disrespectful, and irresponsible people. They have been with us forever. The problem is the good people who have gone to sleep. We live surrounded by the need for moral courage to stand up to abuse, injustice, dishonesty, willful ignorance, the ism’s of the world, and the lack of compassion.

Moral courage may be the most needed courage in the 21st century and the mark of personal maturity and true leadership.




The Servant Leader

I pulled into my parking spot behind the Freeman Building (Part of the Star Tribune complex) at 9:00 a.m. As I got out of my car, a colleague rushed toward me.

“Chuck collapsed in his office. The paramedics took him to the emergency room at Hennepin County Medical Center.”

Only in hindsight were Chuck’s warnings apparent — a persistent headache and soreness in his legs. After some early morning meetings, a day before he was to leave for the Bahamas on vacation, Chuck got up from his conference table and began to walk toward the couch. Suddenly, he put his hand to his head and slumped to the floor. Co-workers rushed to his side and administered CPR. Paramedics took Chuck to the emergency room. We knew his condition was serious. One by one we went to the hospital and stood by our unconscious friend. Some talked to him, some prayed quietly, others wept. Chuck never regained consciousness and died of an aneurysm the next day.

I was stunned by Chuck’s death. I was in shock and denial, and so were many others. Everything felt unreal and moved in slow motion. I woke up in the middle of the first night, went downstairs, sat in the dark with my dog, and wept. The next day a psychologist helped Chuck’s colleagues with their grief. Some who had tried to help him cried out in anguish at their inability to save him.

Hundreds of co-workers attended Chuck’s funeral. I sat in the church filled with pain and anger at the loss of Chuck, the best person I knew at the Star Tribune. This was one of those deaths that felt deeply unfair — to Chuck, his family, and those whose lives he impacted for good every day.

Chuck had worked at the Star Tribune newspaper for over 40 years. People liked being around him, and he had a good personal relationship with scores of employees. Peers, bosses, and subordinates made a constant stream in and out of his office. Chuck was my boss for eight of the almost 18 years I worked at the newspaper. They were my happiest and most productive years. I sensed Chuck’s leadership qualities right away. He was secure and comfortable with himself. He was not threatened by the success of others. Instead, Chuck felt happy to help others succeed. He treated people with respect and dignity and it was easy to see why people loved him. His relationships with people demonstrated that we learn, grow, and develop as leaders through relationship with others. Chuck was testimony that leaders can be healthy, humble, and human.

He wasn’t perfect, and his “niceness” caused some problems. Chuck was patient and took a long time to confront people and to put real issues on the table for discussion. He didn’t want to hurt anyone. He could have used his substantial influence more often than he did to change circumstances that needed changing. In the finest sense of the word, he was paternalistic.

Chuck accepted others as they were. When I was angry, he let me be angry and didn’t become defensive. I could tell him the truth about the organization, and he wouldn’t hold my honesty against me. When I was out of line, he forgave me. I can remember only two occasions in eight years when Chuck lost his temper and yelled, “Tom, we are not going to do that!” A half-hour later, we had patched things up and were laughing. He didn’t like to criticize people, but he would when necessary. When he did, people listened.

He gave me opportunities to grow. When I felt bored and wanted new challenges, Chuck created opportunities for me. On several occasions, he even let me write my own job description. He would read my draft carefully and hand it back to me saying, “Add more responsibilities.” I smile when I think of how we were opposites. He was detail-oriented and wanted the fine points, while I focused more on the big picture and the bottom line. We respected our differences, talked about them, and worked on them. We grew together.

Our offices were next to each other, and our paths crossed several times a day. We both worked hard and walked fast as we went from meeting to meeting. We would smile as we approached one another. I could see the twinkle in his eyes, and he would shake his head in amazement at something someone had done that he wanted to tell me about.

I learned many things about leadership from Chuck. We went to seminars to learn how to coach, mentor, cooperate, and facilitate. On the tests we took, Chuck didn’t score high as a leader; he was a pure manager. The tests were wrong. Chuck was a decent and ethical man and good leaders are good people first. Maturity, judgment, collaboration, and a systemic awareness and understanding of the organization were his hallmarks. Chuck was a good listener, was committed to the truth, and did not play games. He kept us hopeful. Chuck did not need to read about leadership or attend seminars. He became a whole person by learning how to live life. He then brought his wisdom to the workplace. With a leader like Chuck, I was content to be a follower.

Chuck remains a role-model in death as much as he was in life. We converted Chuck’s office to a conference room and named it after him. We hung his picture and a plaque in the room so future employees would know who he was and that he stood for decency, integrity, commitment, compassion, and love for his fellow man. A scholarship fund was established in his name. As his protégés mature, we have moments of insight and become aware of the wisdom Chuck possessed that we had not been mindful of when he was with us. After 20 years, Chuck’s memory endures and his stature grows with the passage of time.

How do we recognize the servant-leader in a world of cynicism, deception, and slick self-promotion? Many people correctly believe their “leaders” lie and manipulate them for personal gain. Many in positions of power undermine others and the organization to meet their own selfish needs. Such betrayals lead to the cynicism so pervasive in organizations. These “leaders” do not leader or serve; they destroy.

The servant-leader consciously and courageously chooses service over selfishness because he or she cares. Servant-leaders exude compassion; they understand that one has to love people to lead them. Every action of the servant aligns with the purpose and values of the whole — even at personal cost. Instead of being out for themselves only, the servant seeks to satisfy higher needs in themselves and in followers. The servant-leader and those served form a symbiotic relationship and evolve together. We must observe the impacts people have on others to determine the true servant-leader. Like Chuck, true leaders help others be the best they can be — all the time. You should trust your heart. If what you hear from those with power conflicts with your heart, reject their words.

Excerpted from: Learning to Live: Essays on Life & Leadership