Is Your Past, Present or Future Driving You?

I spend an hour each morning in prayer and contemplation. Why? Because it is very hard for me to stay in the Present; I tend to live life thinking only about the Future. Thinking about the Future makes me fairly driven to getting things done. If I don’t slow down, stop and take time I almost forget there is a Present. On the other hand, I have never had a problem living in the Past. Though I reflect on the lessons I learned and the blessings I’ve had, I spend little time thinking about the Past. What about you? Is your Past, Present or Future driving you?

I am learning answers to this question since I recently began a book group on “Bridges Out of Poverty” © 2001 by Ruby K. Payne, PhD, Philip E. DeVol & Terie Dreussi Smith. It is clear from this book that it is NOT the Past, Present or Future that drives us. It is our narratives, our self-talk, our closely held beliefs that predict our Past, Present and Future. Our beliefs are at the heart of our own narratives.

In “Bridges”, the authors present the strategies for helping those individuals living in poverty* to move beyond it. The key to helping lies in understanding and sharing the unwritten rules of those living in poverty, middle-class and wealth, as well as, the key structures of language. The unwritten rules cover issues of possessions, money, personality, social emphasis, food, clothing, time, education, destiny, language, family structure, world view, love, driving forces and humor. Below I included a snap shot of a table they present on “Hidden Rules Among Classes” that is quite enlightening, and guides us in explaining our personal narratives.

One thing that America has historically done well is to help set up the conditions for increasingly more people to achieve a life beyond survival with limited resources. Keep in mind however that the middle-class is shrinking and those slipping into poverty is growing. Despite our past efforts at growing a large middle-class, the reality today is that more people are surviving on limited resources and slipping into poverty.

This matters personally to each of us for two reasons: 1) our narratives are cemented in the unwritten rules of the culture/economic class in which we were raised and drives how we think, behave and experience life; and 2) as leaders we need to understand how we may reach people under our leadership from each economic class, most importantly those in poverty. As “Bridges” points out, the importance of mentors cannot be over-stressed, particularly in the workplace.

I ask again, what drives you? What narratives do you have that put you where you are today and will lead you where you are going? Are those narratives helping you or holding you back? Are you using them to help others or hold them back?

Poverty Middle Class Wealth
POSSESSIONS People Things One-of-a-kind objects, legacies, pedigrees
MONEY To be used, spent To be managed To be conserved, invested
PERSONALITY For entertainment. Sense of humor is highly valued. For acquisition & stability. Achievement is highly valued For connections. Financial, political, social connections are highly valued
SOCIAL EMPHASIS Inclusion of those you like Emphasis is on self-governance & self-sufficiency Emphasis is on social exclusion
FOOD Quantity Quality Presentation
TIME Present; decisions made for the moment based on feelings or survival Future; decisions made against future ramifications Traditions & history; decisions made partly on basis of tradition & decorum.

* Poverty is defined as the “extent to which an individual goes without resources” including financial, emotional, mental, spiritual, physical, support systems, relationships/role models, knowledge of hidden rules, and coping strategies.

Live Well. Finish Well.

Who in your life, that has gone before you, can you say, “They lived well and finished well.” Who in your life, that is still living, can you say “Now that is a life well-lived.” What are those qualities that these people possess that you would like to emulate? I have been asking myself these questions and of course the answer is all around me.

It is in the people that I know and love – like my 85-year-old mother Maggie B, a school teacher for 35 years affecting the lives of thousands of children. It is my husband Dr. Jefferson Allen Stewart who is a “King-maker” having helped untold numbers of individuals and companies become highly successful. It is John Kenagy, MD, Owner of John Kenagy & Associates, who has developed Adaptive Design, a method for growing leaders and business cultures for innovation and sustainability, with a focus on Healthcare. As I think across my lifetime, there are so many admirable people that I have looked up to, and truly they are too numerous to count or mention here.

In ALL of them I find three things that have helped them fill the category of “Life Well Lived” heading to “Finishing Well.” These 3 things are intricately woven into their lives. They are a…..

  • Life Long Learner
  • Life Long Leader
  • Life Long Teacher

Life Long Learner

They never stop learning. Take Maggie B. While she has always gone to church, she never studied the Bible and at 84 years old, she started Bible study. Her newest favorite line is “I am learning so much.” How many 85-year olds do you hear saying “I am learning so much”? She is so excited about learning so much.

Life Long Leader

They take their leadership seriously. You can see the strains of their leadership across their lifetime and they take this role as an awesome privilege. Take Dr. Jeff. He was ordained as an Elder at the age of – get this – 12. Yes, his Presbyterian Church in Dallas decided to make a few of the young church leaders Youth Elders. From Elder to Eagle Scout to PhD candidate for 3 PhDs to Professor to Dean to Business Owner to Executive Coach and beyond. Dr. Jeff has lived many lives in his time, and all the while coaching, teaching, encouraging, serving and leading anyone in his perimeter. He’s been asked to be CEO, the man in charge, the top executive too many times to count, and he always says “No, thank you”, preferring to be the guy behind the scenes serving others, helping them grow.

Life Long Teacher

When most people are retiring and shifting into easy gear, here is Dr. John Kenagy at the heartbeat of a new movement that could literally resurrect businesses and livelihoods, giving dignity back to American workers and bosses, and revitalizing American businesses. Through his amazing life of unexpected twists and turns and phenomenal outcomes, he has developed a method for innovation and sustainability that he so willingly teaches to the few initiates who recognize his stroke of brilliance. No matter the chapter in his life’s story, from doctor to patient to hospital administrator to Harvard Fellow to Innovator to Business Owner, Dr. Kenagy has always been a teacher interested in making the path for others a whole lot easier. It is from his book “Designed to Adapt: Leading Healthcare in Challenging Times”, where he names managers as “Learner-Leader-Teacher”, a phrase he adopted from Toyota.

So there you have it. The key to life long success, to living well and finishing well is learning, leading and teaching. Learn from experts, lead others through serving, and teach what you’ve gained.

Are you learning… leading… teaching? Good. Welcome to lifelong success.

Called to the Front

A few years ago I was asked to speak on “Leadership” to a women’s professional networking group within the Utility industry. To prepare for the topic, which of course is really quite broad, I randomly selected about a dozen women in the organization to talk with about leadership. I wanted to know whom they thought of when they thought of leaders in their life, if the women saw themselves as leaders, and how the women spent their time inside and outside of work.

The answers I received in my research helped me see that first of all, most of these women did not see themselves as leaders. However, the truth is that they were leaders in many aspects of their lives – within their families, as volunteers helping others, in leading various efforts within their children’s schools and extracurricular activities, leading Sunday School or committees in their churches, in work to launch the United Way campaign, and other such activities. Those who did not have a title with authority over other employees were the least likely to see themselves as leaders.

Most of the women I spoke with were servants. They served from where they were in all aspects of life. Serving is at the very heart of leadership. And this was the message that these women needed to hear most. It was by the very nature of their serving others that they were tapping into their leadership abilities. In their very service, they were being “called to the front” – essentially to serve as leaders. They did not set out to lead, they set out to serve.

Instead of speaking for the 45 minutes I was given, I chose to get the women talking. This is not hard of course since women love to talk. My mission became to discover together the key traits of a Servant Leader and to identify directly how their serving was building their leadership traits. I led them through a process where they discussed the following in small groups and then in the larger group:

  1. What is a servant?
  2. What is a leader?
  3. What is a servant leader?
  4. What are some leadership dilemmas you have faced?
  5. How might a servant leader respond to these dilemmas to resolve them?

This discovery process worked well. The women began to admit that through their service, they are leaders in their families, their churches, their clubs, and in other areas of their lives. They confessed that at times they fear being the leader because they thought leaders had to have all the answers and are always ready and willing to “command the troops”. Finally, they agreed that no one has all the answers, or we would not need each other.

The women discussed and settled on the traits of a servant leader, not unlike those that Robert K. Greenleaf so eloquently writes about in his 1970 essay “The Servant as Leader.” In their words, the traits of a servant leader are:

In their words: In Greenleaf’s words:
Use your ears twice as much as your mouth Listening
Show and verbalize care and concern Empathy
Help others resolve troublesome situations Healing
Stop, look and listen so you know what is really going on Awareness
Tell others about the benefits of something and what you have gained from it Persuasion
Be sure you understand and help others understand Conceptualization
Think about and talk about all the consequences before you act Foresight
Take good care of the environment, the resources and others Stewardship
Helping others grow is the best reward Commitment to the growth of people
Invite others to join you and make them feel welcome Building community

I don’t know if you have noticed the reluctant leaders among us. I don’t know if you have asked what holds them back. I don’t know if you have noticed that though they are reluctant to “take charge”, they most likely are ready to help, to serve, to give of themselves. I suspect you are like me and see this more often than not. When you see a servant leader in the making, call them to the front. Help them develop their leadership skills. That is truly what we are called to do as servant leaders.

If you are a reluctant leader, serve and through your serving you will be called to the front to lead.

If you see yourself as a leader, who are you serving to be a leader? Who are you calling to the front to lead with you?

Let’s Get Rid of Management

People don’t want to be managed. They want to be led. Whoever heard of a world manager? World leader, yes. Educational leader. Political leader. Religious leader. Community leader. Labor leader. Business leader. They lead. They don’t manage. The carrot always wins over the stick. Ask your horse. You can lead your horse to water but you can’t manage him to drink. If you want to manage somebody, manage yourself. Do that well and you’ll be read to stop managing. And start leading.

Printed by United Technologies Corporation in the Wall Street Journal

When I read this, it rings true to me. I know I don’t want to be managed. I want to lead and be led. I know my husband and kids don’t want to be managed. In fact, I can’t think of anyone who wants to be managed, unless of course they have subjugated that role to others.

Let’s say we agree with this, that people don’t want to be managed. Then what is management for? Why do so many seek to manage and why have we spent so many millions of dollars on the management sciences? And why is leadership such a hot topic today inspiring untold numbers of articles, blogs, movements such as Lead Change Group, etc. Maybe just maybe we got off course somewhere and all bought the idea that we could manage people.

I’d like to join United Technologies Corporation’s movement to get rid of management, at least management in the sense of managing people. Let’s leave management to manage things. We still need management, because we will always need controls, oversight, compliance, and so on. We will always need to manage our resources of time, money and materials. That doesn’t go away.

When it comes to people, let’s lead ourselves first, and when we have mastered that, we are ready to lead others. And when we lead others, let’s use that term in the same way we would use the term serve. Let’s be empowering leaders, who trust and believe in people and want to inspire them to grow and become the best they can be. Let’s cast a vision, rally people behind it, showing them what they have to gain personally and professionally in achieving it.