As the world is continually made smaller through social media, I find some of us are lulled into thinking we “know” people and things because we read a post about it. Or that we are somehow worldly because we have a few friends in international places. My challenge for you is to go further in 2017. Do not hide in your own neighborhoods, with your own friends. I can think of no more important message than this: go places, and do things.
This is the way the world can be made safer – this is how we begin to dismantle hate and bias. No class or workshop will fully teach you how to value others – only your relationship with others can do that. Despite what you may hear from the highest political leaders in our land, the path to peace and happiness is through embracing differences, not hiding from them or sending them away. Here are some tips to get started and get the most out of your “going and doing”:
Locate a place that is “culturally” different from you (e.g., another part of town, another city/state/country, a place of worship where no one talks or looks like you, etc.). Notice these don’t require a lot of money to do this. Of course maybe you do have resources to spare and do want to travel across the world – that is good too.
Before you go, read something (objective/academic) about where you are going. This will help you a great deal in appreciating the “going and doing.” This means you look outside of the popular news media to gain understanding.
Tell people about it! You never know who may want to help you get there, go with you, or have experience in that culture. Share what your going and doing goals are so we can support you!
Meet someone while there and exchange information with them. Follow up with them on a regular basis. Wanna know how to lead and follow in diverse environments? Build relationships with people different from yourself – you’ll be forever changed:)
Write about it. Don’t let the feelings, the ah-ha’s, the anxieties escape you. John Maxwell said that reflection is like the crock pot of the mind – let the thoughts simmer until they are ready. You have to capture those moments if you are ever to make meaning of them.
Now share this with people you care about, and set out to do it!
I recently visited a friend’s church in Chicago, and during service they talked about tithing. Now if you go to church you are already side-eyeing this whole conversation – you know what I mean, but stick with me. If you don’t go to church/mosque/synagogue you may be inclined to stop reading as well – that’s OK, but I think what I’m about say is beyond religious babbling, rather its a principle that shows itself true over and over: giving is good, and worth it.
I decided to “step out on faith”on that day and give – and in doing so I was literally saved from a situation I wasn’t able to handle. I’ve also recently joined a non-profit board, not really having as much time as I want for other things now, and not knowing how it would turn out. Without going into too many specifics for either situation, my faith this time showed itself true. I say “this time” because stepping out on faith is not like rubbing a genie and getting what you want. Sometimes you do, sometimes you don’t. But faith simultaneously allows me to know that whatever the outcome, I’ll be OK. I think about this in the service I do, both within my region and across the world. I also think about it academically as one who studies leadership and its purposes. In fact an entire philosophy of leadership is driven by the believe that leaders should first be servants, and through serving improve the world, community, and individuals. More about Robert Greenleaf and his seminal work on the topic can be found here: https://www.greenleaf.org/what-is-servant-leadership/.
This is not a new principle, but I think its one we have to remember, and reframe. At least I did. I think it is easiest to hear and do this in times of abundance and good times, but we miss something when we do that. You see, biblically speaking, the first “tithe” was given by the father of all Abrahamic religions (Abraham) after he had seen a victory over his enemies. There was no need to give first in order to get something in return. If we think about our own lives, treasures, time and talents, we must think about all that we have already. Whether by your own hard work, by family, or by some other means, we all have something to give. Take what you have been given, and give it back. Not in anticipation of anything in particular, but because you have it to give. Whether the giving is financial, spiritual, with your time, or with your talents; give…because you got it.
Much of my life I have heard the phrase “don’t sweat the small stuff.” Usually that is followed by “and everything is small stuff.” I lived by that quote for much of my life – using it to help me get through, over, and past my disappointments with myself and others. I used it when doing my professional work, realizing that there is always something bigger, badder, and worse that could have been happening. Lately however, I’ve begun to realize that the “small stuff” may mean more than I once believed.
Many of you reading this may have heard of the term microaggresions. If not, google it. These fall under the larger rubric of a micro-insults. They are a form of oppression so small and so slight, that it often goes unnoticed by the person using them. Like a paper cut, to the hearer, they very much so hurt – despite their size or the intention of those using them. Enough of them can cause a tremendous amount of lasting pain. This is often the “small stuff” that many are asked to not sweat. But that’s not really fair is it? I think we need to shift to sweating that small stuff very much, and the people who are subject to those slights should do the same.
The way I see it, if it is indeed that small, perhaps it should be easy to shift our language and behavior a bit to make someone feel like they belong, and that they matter.
I also want to extend this conversation to the “small stuff” we see physically around our campuses that may lead people or communities to feel that they don’t matter. As I visit campuses across the country and indeed my own campus, I wonder how small changes to the environment can go a long way in helping the community feel pride and joy about the space they call home for much of the day. A fresh coat of paint here, a new sign there, a deep cleaning of this area. Some would argue, “but we have so many other big things to worry about.” And to that I would simply respond; then this should be easy! Like the great coach said in the quote above, the little details are vital. In what we say, how we present ourselves to our community, and what we do and do not do; it all matters. Just think about the big things you can make happen once you start attending to the small details I’ve mentioned in this post. People who feel valued do more and better work, people who have pride and joy in their work and learning environment are happier and more productive. I think that’s worth sweating the small stuff.
In my meditation this morning I was reminded about my own role in fighting for justice. Praying for peace and justice is necessary, as the prophet Habakkuk did:
“How long, Lord, must I call for help, but you do not listen? Or cry out to you, “Violence!” but you do not save? Why do you make me look at injustice? Why do you tolerate wrongdoing? Destruction and violence are before me; there is strife, and conflict abounds. Therefore the law is paralyzed, and justice never prevails. The wicked hem in the righteous, so that justice is perverted.”
Blogging at the end of the night is impossible when my nights end late, which they did on both Friday and Saturday. Friday ended with these now regular chat with Sandra and Jerome over some wine and light snacks. I’m in love with the rituals this family keeps, and am taking notes as I think about how to be a better host. Rituals, like traditions, create a sense of belonging and purpose. A lesson for all of us is the power in daily routines to help us center ourselves, reflect, and prepare for the next day. With a child of my own I’ve learned to appreciate the power of routines. It is vital for her health and well-being. Of course once we get older we seem to drop our routines, and because we are so “busy” we accept the chaos that comes with everyday. I am going to think about my routines more at home and work – which ones are healthy and which ones should I ditch. Oh, and I saw a hedgehog! A real life, in the “flesh” hedgehog. I told my hosts that I’ve never seen one outside of a zoo – and never thought about why. But as it was crawling around their back porch I looked them up on the internet and found out they are not indigenous to the U.S. So there you have it – a hedgehog.
I did have an opportunity to sit with two more staff members at the ROC Sports College in Amersfoort. One of those men was Bas (Sebastian), who was the Director of the college. He is equivalent to a Dean in the U.S., and he is responsible for reporting to the Chairman of the ROC and managing the affairs of the college. He actually started the Sports College almost 10 years ago, along with others I’ve met, including Jerome, of whom Bas speaks very highly. I learned more about the higher education system, and with each meeting I learn something new, gain clarity, and lose some as well! Understanding all of this takes time, and will take more time even after this exchange to get my head around. Bas and others started the college, so I began to think about how at Oakton we have some who have started the college 46 years ago still exerting influence in the college. There are others who have been there a really long time. I think how hard it is to change something that you’ve been so immersed in since the beginning. Part of my interest in doing this exchange is to examine how higher ed is administered, how the organizations are structured, who leaders are and how they lead, and how change is managed. When asked about how change is perceived and managed here, Bas commented that they were excited about change. At least within the Sports College change is welcome as a new opportunity from what I can tell, and because of the involvement of the teachers and others in the execution of change, there seems to be buy-in early in the process.
I mentioned in a previous post about the involvement and care of the teachers. After speaking with the Director, it seems that the teachers’ involvement is encouraged and insisted upon from the highest level of the organization. The teachers and other staff are the decision makers. Yes, the Director gives the larger goal to achieve, but all the details of how that will happen flows up from the rank and file. In fact, the Director said “my dilemma in leadership is to not interfere with how the team achieves its goals.” There is an inherent and well-earned trust among this team, one that lacks in some of the spaces where I work. I believe I can do better to develop trust in those around me, and also trust the people around me more. This trust-building process takes time. Time that we often sacrifice in the name of efficiency and “getting things done,” while in fact our ability to get things done is compromised by our lack of relationship building. I tell my students this all the time – but alas, I don’t always practice it.
There is an “Invocation and Education” team that I have to find a way to model at Oakton. It is something I have thought about a lot in terms of how we institutionalize creative problem solving using the talent within our division. This team is designed to do that for the Sports College. New ideas and ways to approach problems are discussed in this group, and the ideas can be generated from his group as well. At the end of the day you have well vetted ideas and solutions that can be attempted. I need to learn more about this team as I think how to apply the concept back home. I hope to see more people take ownership in the affairs of the College at all levels. I think that is missing – it’s my role as an institutional leader to create space for that culture to emerge.
Saturday was my triumphant return to Amsterdam! Very good day. Lots of walking and lots of sight-seeing (unstructured),
the Amsterdam Dungeon,
a canal tour,
and some good drinks at Irish pubs and a steakhouse. The pictures say more than I can say – but it was a great day. Today is my day off – I won’t blog tomorrow about today as I’m mostly going to be at the house until dinner tonight with the family.
I have this bit of advice to share for all you new graduates – and some of us older graduates too:
“Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.”
~Matthew 6:34 NIV
Whether you are particularly religious or not, whether you are Christian or not, my hope is that you can see the wisdom in those words. I’m actually practicing doing this more myself. In higher education, particularly leadership education within higher ed, we always implore people to be present. Part of the reason people are not present is because they are distracted. And many people are distracted not by technology but by their own worry and stress about tomorrow. This scripture reminds us of two important facts. One, tomorrow will worry about itself. And two, there are too many troubles to deal with today to be worrying about tomorrow.
So as you start off in your new careers, particularly in higher ed, remember that balance starts with realizing that for today, focus on dealing with today. Today really needs you. The students in front of you, the meeting you’re in, the program you’re planning. Those are problems for today. And as I always say to those in my workplace – that other stuff…that’s a tomorrow problem.
This past weekend I had the privilege of attending a retirement celebration for the outgoing President of Oakton Community College, Dr. Margaret B. Lee. Peg, as she is affectionately known by all, is retiring after 20 years as college president, and 30 years total at Oakton. I could spend this post raving all about who Peg is and her career, but that’s not really necessary. A simple web search, or conversation with anyone in her circle will yield you plenty. Instead, I will share what I came to understand as I shared in her celebration (oh, and remember, she is a bit of a Shakespeare nut ;).
I am an educator. Sometimes it is hard to define what that means. I teach, learn, coach, and support people. I am a leader. I empower, supervise, develop, and manage people. I am not the only one, many others do the same thing. But few of us do it with the humility and grace that I see in Peg Lee. Peg’s life is the intersection of love, passion, education and leadership. To see that, to really see her and her example, is a privilege. It is particularly salient for me as someone who is looking at another three decades or more of life and work. The road before me is long, God willing, and I am very thoughtful about how I want this life to play out.
My life won’t mirror Peg’s life exactly, it can’t. My life and my impact will be my own. But I can only hope that I can strive to do what Peg has done. Peg has lived a life that she was meant to live. She has lived a life full of challenge and success, across a number of industries and geographic areas. Each of those challenges and successes shows up in who Peg is today. She is authentically and genuinely the sum of her experiences, integrated into her very being, and shared with the world in each of her interactions. Who can ask for anything more? As a parent, family man, consultant, educator, and much more – that’s who I want to be. No matter what I do in my life, at Oakton or otherwise, in higher ed or otherwise, I want to be what Peg has epitomized. Peg is not perfect, Peg is Peg. And at the end of your formal career, is that not what we all want to be said about ourselves? Is a live worth living not one in which you were all that you hoped to be – and people are better because of who you are? That message was reaffirmed for me this weekend, and I am inspired to continue to lead and educate, without the need for recognition, or any pay off.
I am thankful to have worked under her leadership for the last few years, and had the opportunity to see her; flaws and all. I am thankful to have seen what it truly means, to be. Thank you Peg.