I was visiting with a leader I had respected from a distance for some time. As we talked, he kept looking at his watch and glancing around at other people. He would grunt a few responses and then glance down at his watch or look around again, making eye contact with someone walking by or nodding his head in acknowledgement to them. It didn't take me long to realize this person was not engaged at all with me. It felt not just disappointing but deeply off-putting--like I didn't count or wasn't important enough to him to pay targeted attention to.
What does it take to be a great leader in an era when the winds of global and local change are blowing in gale force, where the world is so interconnected that when you make a decision someone on the other side of the world is affected? Leadership has never been easy. There have always been challenges. But these days, the difficulties seem to be uniquely immense. Which means leadership isn't for the faint of heart. It's not just about competence and intelligence.
There is a lot of conversation these days in the business world that is recognizing the significance of assessing and addressing organizational internal culture. This is long over-due! Because truth is, culture is one of the most important aspects of an organization that drives everything else--from employee engagement, to productivity, to even the bottom line of financial success.
Chinese Taoism has a very powerful paradigm that explains the dynamics of effective living. In my opinion, this paradigm is becoming increasingly significant in order to chart an effective way forward in the 21st century. Yin-Yang Paradigm
It's called the Yin and the Yang. Yin-Yang is used to describe how seemingly opposite or contrary forces are in fact interconnected and interdependent and how they give rise to each other as they interrelate to one another. Yin and yang can be thought of as complementary (instead of opposing) forces interacting to form a dynamic system in which the whole is greater than the parts. Everything has both yin and yang aspects, (for instance shadow cannot exist without light). That's why you notice, in the symbol for Yin-Yang, that each part has the other (small dot) within it.
Describing Yin and Yang
"Yang is the white side with the black dot on it, and yin is the black side with the white dot on it. The relationship between yin and yang is often described in terms of sunlight playing over a mountain and a valley. Yin (literally the 'shady place' or 'north slope') is the dark area occluded by the mountain's bulk, while yang (literally the 'sunny place' or 'south slope') is the brightly lit portion. As the sun moves across the sky, yin and yang gradually trade places with each other, revealing what was obscured and obscuring what was revealed." (Wikipedia)
Yin is characterized as slow, soft, yielding, diffuse, cool and refreshing, wet, and reflective; and is associated with water, earth, the moon, femininity and nighttime.
Yang, by contrast, is fast, hard, solid, focused, hot, dry, and aggressive; and is associated with fire, sky, the sun, masculinity and daytime.
Yin-Yang Implications for the 21st Century
So how does this fit in with my last blog post about the Athena Doctrine?
One, The authors, in their extensive global research*, have found that more and more people in our 21st century are being drawn to a different-than-usual way of living and working and being in the world. They're realizing for our world to achieve its potential for wholeness and transformation, both Yin and Yang need to be expressed, validated, and incorporated.
Two, for much of history, there has been a Yang path forward--predominantly masculine, where aggression, power, win-lose, dominance have ruled the day. The Yin, more feminine part of life, has been devalued and considered "too soft" to be effective at the forefront of and in the halls of influence in a world filled with conflict, enemies, survival and growth.
Three, and yet, as the authors of The Athena Doctrine are pointing out from their extensive research, the majority of people (66%) representing countries around the world are saying that for the world to achieve its full potential, the Yin side--more feminine qualities--needs to be brought to the forefront.
Four, the powerful piece to this is that people aren't saying it's an "either/or" proposition--throw out all the men and bring in all the women. Rather, it's a "both/and" necessity.
A World of Complementarity Instead of Opposition
Here's the way the authors describe it:
"People seek a more expressive style of leader who shares feelings more openly and honestly as well as patience and reason to break gridlock. We also want long term thinkers who can dig in and plan for the future. The more masculine qualities like decisiveness and resilience are important, but so is being flexible in order to build consensus and get things done. Also, in the new economy winning is becoming a group construct: masculine traits like aggression and independent trail the feminine values of collaboration and sharing credit. And being loyal (which is feminine) is more valued than being proud (which is masculine), which point to being devoted to the cause rather than one's self. And that we want our leaders to be more intuitive--(also feminine)--speaks to the lack of many leaders to have the capacity to relate to ordinary people and their points of view."
The central facet of Yin-Yang is the emphasis on the interconnectedness of life, one cannot exist without the other, both are complementary to each other rather than opposing forces, interacting to form a dynamic system in which the whole is greater than the parts. For this to occur, both sides have to be equally valued in the shifting seasons and shadows of life.
The Necessity of Addressing a Historical Imbalance
There has been a sad imbalance of this equation for much of history. And the tragic results of this are evident everywhere: violence, gridlock, greed for power-status-wealth, economic injustice, aggression, win-lose, lack of compassion, us again them mentality, being right is more important than being in relationship.
This has to change if we are going to experience a world where everyone has an equal place at the table with equal opportunities, and where we steward our natural resources in sustainable ways, all built upon a foundation of mutual honor, respect, worth, and empathy.
It's time to place inordinate value upon the feminine characteristics and ways of thinking and being as central to our path forward. It's time to place more women and men who think like them at positions of influence in charting our path forward. It's time to shape a global rather than tribal world based upon the value of interconnectedness and dynamic complementarity in navigating our path forward. It's time to honor both Yin and Yang together and empower both to work interdependently in building an effective path forward.
The future and quality of our world depend upon it.
*The Athena Doctrine: How Women (and the Men Who Think Like Them) Will Rule the World, John Gerzema & MichaeL D’Antonio
I'm currently reading a book titled 12: The Elements of Great Managing. It's based on Gallup's ten million workplace interviews - the largest worldwide study of employee engagement. It has some really profound perspectives on what it takes for people to feel deeply and effectively a meaningfully contributing part of organizations and teams. I'm realizing as I read that these principles apply to every social system like families, marriages, significant relationships, faith communities. The very first element that produces radically increased engagement among people is "knowing what's expected." Reality-based, clearly stated, shared expectations.
Now this may not seem like rocket-science to you (and it's not), but you would be surprised how often our relational challenges stem from unclear, unshared, and unreal expectations of each other.
I had two 2-hour sessions with a couple of faith community leaders who work together as a staff. Their relationship for the last few years has deteriorated to the point of both people considering leaving and finding separate ministry opportunities. Trust is at an all time low.
It turned out that both leaders had a certain expectation about each other's leadership style that wasn't getting met. And over time, these unmet expectations created serious tension, frustration, and what appeared to them as lack of respect for each other, and ultimately the disintegrating ability to trust the other.
Once I helped them see that each of their leadership styles were different from the other's because leadership style is based upon each person's top five strengths profile not some predetermined template for how leadership is suppose to look, this was able to shift their expectations of each other to a more realistic place. That new shared view of each other could be validated, honored, and respected - because both styles are good ... just different. It was heart-warming to hear both of them starting to complement and affirm each other for what they now saw as each other's unique strengths and style.
Expectations of the people in our lives has to be based upon reality - a clear understanding of who each other is and how we're each wired to be our best.
Clearly Stated Expectations
And we can't know what's expected of us unless the other is willing to clearly state their expectations.
As I work with couples and teams, I realize how often so many of us expect others to be "mind readers." We simply expect people to know what we're thinking and what we're needing without us having to tell them.
Now, most of us wouldn't admit that's what we're doing. But our behavior would sure indicate it.
Analyze a few of your last relationship arguments. Chances are you'll discover that at the heart of the misunderstanding or hurt feelings was your expectation (or desire) for the other person to simply know what you want. Some how, we give more points if they guess correctly - their attempts to relate have more value if they come unprompted. Right?
I want my wife to be so intuitive, to read my every micro-expression, to know me so well, so as to just "know" what I'm needing or wanting or expecting. And if she can't guess, then at least she should "pull it out of me" by means of her great relational skills of wise questions and sensitive, caring prompts.
But as you and I both know (in our saner moments), this is ridiculous! Unfair! And unrealistic!
Most of us simply aren't clairvoyant. We don't have a crystal ball with our partner's name on it. We're not mind readers with extra-sensory perception. Neither are the other people in our lives.
If we want others to know what we expect, what we need, what we want, we need to know ourselves and then be willing to state it. Clearly. So as to be completely understood. Otherwise, the onus is on us. Clearly stated expectations.
Only then can expectations be shared - that wonderful place where both sides not only clearly see and understand the other, but also where they agree to co-inhabit the expectation.
This third level is a bit more tricky and difficult. It takes more compromise and commitment to each other; more trust; more desire; more willingness to find and achieve consensus; more persistence; more patience; more grace. More work.
But when something is mutually shared, it's worth a lot. Right? There's deep strength to it. Solid commitment. A sense of committed partnership and collaboration. Mutual honor and respect. A lessening of resentment, anger, and frustration.
This kind of shared experience (which includes clear and shared expectations) is what leads experts to call basketball "a chemistry sport." As a team practices and plays together, the players develop a "tacit knowledge" about each other--they have clear understanding about each other's roles, strengths, weaknesses, styles, quirks, typical patterns--and this knowledge ultimately enables the team to experience synchronicity. To the onlooker, it appears almost magical the way players can anticipate and execute and adjust to each other in a unified and effective manner.
Our relationships - our social systems - are chemistry sports, too. Which means we each take responsibility to develop clear, realistic, and shared expectations and understandings of each other if we want to live and work effectively together.
So how's your chemistry and synchronicity with the people in your life?
"What the country needs right now is a good hedgehog." So begins Wednesday's insightful editorial by Arianna Huffington ("Why America Is Deeply in Need of a Good Hedgehog"). Which begs the question: what is a hedgehog and why do we need one? Fox Or Hedgehog?
She references Isaiah Berlin, well-known British philosopher, who in 1953 laid out two opposing styles of leadership--foxes and hedgehogs--taking his cue from a line in an ancient Greek poem by Archilochus: "The fox knows many things, but the hedgehog knows one big thing."
She notes: "According to Berlin, the fox will 'pursue many ends, often unrelated and even contradictory, connected, if at all, only in some de facto way.' In contrast, the hedgehog offers an 'unchanging, all embracing... unitary inner vision.'" The fox knows many things, but the hedgehog knows one big thing.
The Power of Focus
So why is this an important quality? There's something very powerful about focus. Recent brain science tells us that focus and attention on something you believe is possible actually prompt the brain to begin charting a path, called a motor map, toward the realization of that goal. The brain acts on the power of your focus and begins setting into place (creating) what you imagine. From your focus, it actually determines the best route that will take you to your goal.
Cultural Habits Work Against Us
So with this built-in tool to help us, why is it so difficult? We live in a culture that demands our attention every time we turn around. And we've given it 24/7 access to us through our smartphones, computers, iPads, laptops, radio, TV. I notice that when I'm working on my computer, even though I'm deeply focused on the screen with what I'm doing, my eyes wander to the 20 other tabs I have open in my browser. And before I know it, I'm browsing the latest news in those tabs. Or I hear a text come to my iPhone so I immediately look at it. Focus gone. Attention lost. And when I return to my document, I have to read again what I've already written in order to get back into focus. Time lost.
Comparing Hedgehogs and Foxes
The power of the hedgehog is its focus on the one big thing important to it. It drills down without distraction or dilution. It focuses on what it knows it does best and does it again and again.
The fox is all over the place, going really fast here and there. It's very busy and active--it has a million different ideas, scampering from one to the other. It might look to an outside observer that it's sure getting 'er done and being really successful.
But busyness isn't synonymous with effectiveness. Activity, activating, don't necessarily mean productively purposeful or purposefully productive.
So whenever the fox wants to grab the hedgehog for its next meal, attempting its million different strategies for stealth attacks, the hedgehog simply rolls into a spiky ball. And the fox ends up the loser every time.
So what is that one big important thing to you? What do you live for? What do you work for? What are you in relationships for? Is there a common thread in those life areas that would help define your "one big important" thing? What are you truly focused on? What holds your attention? What do you know you're better at than anything else? What one thing do you wish you could do more than all others? Answering those questions will help to identify your hedgehog.
All spiritual traditions through the centuries have reminded us that effective spirituality is about developing focus and attention. You could call it Hedgehog Spirituality.
I'm reminded of one of the successful spiritual luminaries in the Bible who delivered a very hedgehog-like statement: "13 I focus on this one thing: Forgetting the past and looking forward to what lies ahead, 14 I press on to reach the end of the race and receive the heavenly prize for which God, through Christ Jesus, is calling us." (Philippians 3)
St. Paul expresses a very hedgehogian perspective. "I focus on this one thing." Remember, the fox knows many things, but the hedgehog knows one big thing. And St. Paul is choosing to stay focused on his one thing.
And to do this hedgehog-like experience, notice what he has to include: forgetting the past, and pressing on to the end goal. That's the power of focus.
Brain scientists tells us that when we focus on one thing thing (especially inspirational, positive things like hope, allowing our imaginations to hold it and savor it), our brains immediately go to work establishing neural pathways that short circuit our tendency to fear which as St. Paul describes it can keep us anchored in the past. That positive focus engages our brain centers in charge of activating our behaviors to achieve that focus goal. As St. Paul said in another place, "By beholding, we become changed."
St. Paul's choice to focus and give powerful attention empowers him to stay pressing on, even when the going gets rough and tough and discouraging. Giving focus to our One Big Thing activates our brain to keep us pushing forward.
Runners all know that when you're running a fast race like the 100 yard dash you have to keep your face pointed forward. Otherwise, the moment you look around or sneak a glance sideways or backwards, your body loses speed, easing up even a tiny bit. And that tiny bit can cost you the win.
Notice the three runners in the picture at the right. Where are they focusing? Keep your focus forward.
St. Paul's Hedgehog
I'm inspired by St. Paul's One Big Thing--that which he kept his eyes upon, what he allowed his mind to savor and attend to. God through Jesus Christ. A few verses before this, Paul refers to the faithfulness of God. Paul is motivated, his life propelled forward, by his focus on a God revealed through Jesus who is faithful, who loves him without condition, who breathes life and soul into his spirit freely and abundantly, who has a prize waiting for him at the end of his race whether he comes in first or last. Faithfulness, compassion, relentless tenderness--the big L, Love.
Imagine living your entire life with your One Big Thing as Love, the divine kind of love. Imagine how that focus and attention would empower you to show up every where you go in Love--showing up at work in Love, showing up at home in Love, showing up at the grocery store in Love, showing up in your relationships in Love, showing up in your conflicts in Love, showing up in our world of need in Love.
What would it take to make Love your One Big Thing, your hedgehog, the one thing you do better than anything else, the one thing you are keeping your face forward focusing on, leaning into, savoring? And then imagine receiving that heavenly reward from the hands of a God who has been there beside you every step of the way.
What the world needs right now is a good hedgehog!