Mourning

I am having a difficult few days. Today I attended a funeral of the mother of one of my dearest friends, Steve. Three weeks ago she was diagnosed with cancer and was given a timetable of about Christmas. She passed away 23 days later. She was a healthy woman all of her life, only being sick 2 or 3 months prior. Obviously, it was a shock to Steve and his family.

When my father passed, Steve was the first person at my house the next day, with tears in his eyes. He exemplified what the bible commands us to do when it says to mourn with those who are mourning. I asked him to play trumpet at my dads funeral. He played two stanzas of Amazing Grace, the first verse being played traditionally, the second verse done in a jazz style, honoring my father’s jazz trumpeting days. I was honored by Steve’s honor to my dad.

That very same week, one of my best friends from junior high and high school days, who I still keep very close contact with, Richard, lost his mother to heart disease complications. I attended my second funeral in less than a week. Rich and I and our other best mutual friend Dwight mourned together, and a week later took a trip to Beaver’s Bend to get away from it all.

This week Richard’s father is in his last moments. He’s been diagnosed with congestive heart failure from some time now, but this year he’s been battling it full on. A week ago things turned for the worst. The family is bracing itself for the inevitable, and Mr. P is facing this with peace and dignity. The medical staff has made him as comfortable as possible in these last few moments. It could be within hours or a few days.

Another family relation is on dialysis, and recently had a bout with internal bleeding that hospitalized her for a few days. This is on top of other medical complications. She’s pulled through, but is fighting to gain her strength back.

Earlier last week I saw another friend from church whose husband nearly died from leukemia. After a second opinion from another doctor and medical institution, and after several procedure, he’s bounced back. He still has a long battle ahead of him, but his and his wife’s faith are pulling them through.

Another childhood friend who has suffered many heart attacks, strokes, and a bout with cancer has a small blood clot in his brain. He’s functional and is living life day to day, even out and about. But a small shift in that blood clot could mean the end of his life.

Another good friend lost his nephew to suicide after a bout with depression onset by a painful divorce.

Stressful, painful overwhelming circumstances that are really not my own, but I own them anyway. These are people I care about, and I will suffer along with them.

But you know what? God is still Good. I believe that wholeheartedly. We live in a fallen world. Much is out of our control. And the things that are in control yet we falter anyway, we can know we are forgiven. We can receive that forgiveness and move on. We can heal and recover. Life can move on. We can mourn and grieve, and take our time and process it. I would hope we won’t settle there and that we would have the hope to move on at a reasonable time. But we can enjoy the right to grieve on our terms. As I have said multiple times over the past few days, we can choose our response. I’m choosing to mourn, process it, learn from it, and move forward.

Addendum: Richard’s father passed away hours after writing this, on December 15th. We had the funeral on December 18th, with Graveside services on the 20th with military honors. Dwight joined us again for the services.

The Leader’s Posture of Understanding

I wrote in an earlier post about Stephen Covey’s habit, Seek First to Understand, then be Understood. Taking the time to understand another party is so important in setting the stage of building trust. If I don’t show any interest or effort in trying to understand you, why should you trust me? Especially if I am someone in a leadership position who will be attempting to move you in a agreed upon direction.

If we have a difference of opinion or perspective that is causing friction and inhibiting progress and momentum, then this difference needs to be addressed. Maybe the incorrect position is mine, maybe it’s not. Regardless, to reach an agreement, the differences must be discussed, and I need to hear you out, and you need to hear me out. As a leader, I should defer and make every attempt to understand your position first. To understand you requires, once again, some vulnerability and proximity. I will be “standing under” you. This requires a moment of submission, while I put my preconceived notions aside and listen without prejudice. I can’t do this at a distance. I must let you in, and you must let me in. But the leader takes the initiative in vulnerability.

Understanding means taking the time to seeing the matter at hand from the perspective of the other. I have to get into their context. “I see where you’re coming from.” It involves walking a mile in their moccasins. It requires some humility. Only once you have given your position and I have made every attempt to see it as you do, can I then give my perspective. By truly listening and understanding you, hopefully I have purchased the right for my perspective to be listened to and understood by you. Then, and only then, can a proper resolution be made. This resolution has a higher potential to be a win-win, rather than a one sided victory.

Empathy also comes into play. Not only must I see your perspective, I must feel it as well. In fact, one might venture to say that I can’t really see your perspective until I feel it. This takes much discipline, because empathy is a scarce tool in people’s emotional toolbox these days. Patience comes into play, as also the idea of being present in the moment. This can’t be rushed.

It’s also helpful that I, as the leader, approach the issue with an optimistic mindset, rather than a cynical one. I should give the you the benefit of the doubt. I should believe that you have the best interests of both parties at heart. Being shrewd is always recommended, (Jesus told his followers to be shrewd as serpents AND gentle as doves,) but a gentle hope in the other party complements any caution one might have coming to the table. Do your homework, be mindful, alert and aware, and take the time to be discerning. If any pretension is truly present, it will come to light .

Taking the time to understand the other is one of the best investments in fostering trust. Trust still remains one of the three core values needed to influence others. Take the time to stand under your people. This is the true posture of servant leadership.

The Gift of Listening

The Gift of Listening

If you want to make progress with people, you have to offer them a gift – the gift of a listening ear. One of Stephen Covey’s Seven Habits of Highly Effective People is Seek First to Understand, then be Understood. The only way to understand others is to listen to them. So shut up. Zip up your bone box.

In 1886 a young socialite had the honor of dining in the same week with both William Gladstone and Benjamin Disraeli. Both statesmen were running against each other for the post of Prime Minister of the United Kingdom. The press asked her of her impressions that the rivals had made on her. She replied, “After dining with Mr. Gladstone, I thought he was the cleverest person in England. But after dining with Mr. Disraeli, I thought I was the cleverest person in England.” ¹ Mr. Disraeli had the gift of making you feel as you were the most important person in world. As a result, the young lady felt affirmed and of value.

There are some ways to NOT listen. Do not “listen” and simultaneously be thinking about how you are going to respond. That is not listening. This is the same as shutting them out. When listening, don’t be looking around the room or area. Instead, give them eye contact, with a genuine soft smile. Have an open look to your eyes, don’t stare them down with intimidation. Don’t interrupt. Again, that’s the same as planning your words, only you could care less about what they are really saying. Also, pause three seconds before saying anything when it is your turn to respond. It will seem like an eternity, but it will show that you are processing your partner’s ideas.

A benefit of actually listening? You might actually learn something about your conversation partner. What if by listening you gained some insight on this individuals needs? As a sales professional, this could be valuable information. What if by listening you learned something about their point of view or position? As a negotiator, you might find a true win-win solution. What if by listening you discerned the persons fears or pain that has been affecting their behavior? As a family member you might learn how you could show them love with actions, not just words, (although words are necessary, too.) What if by listening you were told what their biggest problems or concerns were? As a public office holder you might learn a practical way of serving your constituents. If you are constantly talking, you are not in a position to serve and love those you are trying to connect with.

When you actually listen, the other party will feel respected. They will discern authenticity and genuineness. You will be building trust. If you respond with authenticity, you will show that you have the other individual’s best interests at heart. You will be seen and heard as being trustworthy. You will be able to position yourself to show love, respect and trust. And your opportunity to influence them will have grown considerably.

Real listening can’t be faked. You are either listening or you are elsewhere. You have to be present. As mentioned in the title, listening is a gift, and like a present, you have to be present in order to give it.

1. Olivia Fox Cabane, The Charisma Myth (Portfolio/Penguin/2012)

Christmas in Airports

It’s 7:19am. I’m in an airport. DFW to be precise. I’ve been here since approximately 6:30pm last evening, which was Christmas Eve. Oh, yeah….Merry Christmas! I am waiting for a 12:40pm flight to Lexington, Kentucky, where my niece resides. That’s where our family does the Christmas thing.

I actually kind of enjoy flying. (I don’t enjoy long delays, cancellations, and grumpy TSA agents.)
I enjoy the otherworldliness I kind of feel at airports. I like the people watching, especially trying to guess the different cultures represented. I like the mall like atmosphere in some airports, (like at Charlotte Douglass at Charlotte, North Carolina,) I just wished there were more practical amenities for those of us on long layovers so we could get some comfortable shuteye.

Obviously, I’m not on a layover. Had to get here earlier than normal because most folks aren’t available to help out with rides on Christmas Eve or Christmas Day. I’ve been able to nap, but apart from a small Snickers bar, and a 20oz Sprite, (totaling $4.25 at a newsstand, price gougers!) I’ve eaten nothing, and am greatly anticipating the leftovers of my family’s Christmas meal. The 12:40 flight will arrive in Lexington at 3:49pm, a two hour nine minute flight, give or take; we lose an hour due to time zone adjustment.

I’ve been in a lounge all night long, charging my ever depleting digital devices. There’s been one other lady in here most of the evening and morning, and she’s been crashed out. I’ve dozed off and on, but really can’t sleep well sitting in a chair. At approximately 6:00am, Terminal B began seeing an influx of early Christmas morning flights and traffic. About 4 more fliers have come and gone to and from our little hideaway. A lone TV screen showing segmented program from various stations is droning in the background. A combo of Classic Rock and Christmas standards are playing throughout the terminal, interrupted by annoying TSA announcements about not leaving your luggage unattended and not exiting not-for-public exit doors. Dire consequences for both!

An airport employee came in about 3:00am to vacuum the floor in our little hideaway lounge. She needed a bit more attention to her thoroughness. I occasionally get up to stretch my legs, not leaving our little space so I don’t make the mistake of leaving my troublesome carryons unattended. Who knew inanimate objects needed so much attention? Drama queens, geeh!
I pack up at about 4:00am, so I can find an appropriate facility to empty my bladder, and return to my little corner of paradise to unpack once again and charge my various ever depleting digital devices. (5 points for alliteration.) At 4:00, I get bored, so I pack up again, and hop on Skylink, the rail like train that connects all 5 terminals. Only two people board the entire lap.

Once back in Terminal B, I return to my little corner in paradise, once again unpacking my ever depleting digital devices, and resume their feeding. It is now 7:52, about 4 hours 18 minutes until the call for boarding…and it won’t get here soon enough!

Well, Merry Christmas again folks. Mine has been an adventure of “it is what it is.” Not bitter, just sleepy and hungry, and much anticipation for Lexington.

 

Addendum: It is 7:28pm, I am in a Hilton in Columbus, Ohio. My flight to Lexington was diverted to Columbus due to very bad visibility conditions in Lexington. After scrambling to find an alternative route to Lex, finally was able to get a flight to Charlotte then connect to Lexingtion tomorrow morning. My opinion has slightly changed from what I wrote earlier today.

Three Points on Optimism – Part One: It’s About the Heart

On May 18, 2015, I had one of my most memorable experiences. You may or may not be aware that my favorite band is a quaint little Canadian trio that goes by the name of Rush. Now, I am not one of these crazy, rabid fans that see them multiple times on every tour. That would be awesome, but I recognize that I have a thing called “a life”. Tickets are not cheap, and I need both of my kidneys, and don’t want to promise my first born as an offering. But I splurged and bought two tickets, for myself and good friend Chad Cooke, to Rush’s R-40 tour. This particular tour was also rumored to be their farewell tour, so it was kind of a moral imperative that I attend this event.

I was not disappointed. In fact, at the risk of sounding pagan, it was a religious experience. I had seen them 6 times previously. The first concert I ever attended was Rush, on their Power Windows tour in January of my junior year, 1986. I, along with my best friends Dwight and Rich and Monte, had 2nd row seats. We were spoiled from the beginning. Never again did a concert live up to this one. Well, almost never…

R-40 setlist began with Rush’s most recent album, Clockwork Angels, and ended with Rush’s eponymous album. This made for an interesting flow. After the 20 minute intermission, they started with Tom Sawyer, and honestly, from here on out was my favorite part of the show. In a way, this concert was a kind of worship for me. I know, borderline idolatry you are accusing me of right now, and I wholeheartedly agree. My heart was swollen in my chest, and my eyes were teary. Lump in my throat. The only thing I can think of that would justify this feeling, which some would condemn in me as sinful, is that this is just but a taste of what God has in store for me, for us, when we enter our final home. “Now to Him who is able to do immeasurably more that all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, for ever and ever! Amen.” If I can watch a Rock and Roll band of the world, and have feelings of ecstasy and transcendence, just think of what God has in store for us!

There is one song that holds some special significance for me. On their fifth studio album, A Farewell to Kings, the third track. Closer to the Heart. A fan favorite that brings out the cigarette lighters and cell phone screens. Here are the lyrics:

“Closer to the Heart” by Neil Peart

And the men who hold high places
Must be the ones who start
To mold a new reality
Closer to the heart
Closer to the heart
The blacksmith and the artist
Reflect it in their art
They forge their creativity
Closer to the heart
Closer to the heart

Philosophers and ploughmen
Each must know his part
To sow a new mentality
Closer to the heart
Closer to the heart
You can be the captain
I will draw the chart
Sailing into destiny
Closer to the heart

 

Listen to Closer to the Heart by Rush on @AppleMusic.

https://itun.es/us/tHDwM?i=643423150

 

When I hear these lyrics, I think of a kind of unity, a kind of harmony amongst men and women of all stripes. The lowly and the lofty. The simple and the learned. All people living together, working toward good purposes. Together. “Molding a new reality.” A life lived closer to the heart. The heart is known to be the seat of the soul. It is where our mind, will, and emotions reside. It is our inner life. I could go on and on with spiritual allegories, and someday I will write about this at length. But for now, to set up the next post in this series, I just want to highlight the idea that society has for era after era attempted to create societies that reflect this kind of Utopia, many with disastrous results. But Rush hits on something that many philosophers and those in high places miss. It begins with the heart.

Keep that in mind when reading the next posts in this series. The next one will be about a “recent” (18 months) movie that closes with a scene that brought this idea to my mind. Until then….Pax.

The Absolute Necessity of Trust and Faith

I have mentioned three important values many times in my posts. What are they?

Trust. Respect. Love. All three of them are essentials if you want to influence people. Today we are going to focus on trust, and trustworthiness. Trust is defined as the firm belief in the reliability, truth, ability, or strength of someone or something. When you are placing your trust in someone, you are placing a little bit of yourself into them. It’s an investment. There’s some risk involved. You are being vulnerable. But when it pays off, the payoff has a synchronistic effect. The sum is greater than its parts. The relationship is strengthened mightily. You now deem that individual as trustworthy, or able to be relied on as honest, truthful, reliable, dependable.

It is important to have faith in the people you are working with. If you are responsible for the development of your constituents, then at some point in time, you are going to have to release them. You give them responsibilities, you let them go to do their work, and you trust them to get it done. (Of course, this assumes they have been properly trained to do those responsibilities.) Once you let them go, keep your hands off. Otherwise, you are betraying your trust. If by chance they fail, unless it is a moral failure, don’t sweep your trust under a rug. Provide the constructive criticism they need in a respectful and kind way. Help them fail forward. Evaluate where they went wrong. Help them discover their strengths so they can develop them properly and put those strengths to work. Help them leverage their weaknesses. And let them try again. Do all of this feedback in a corroborative way. Ask questions and listen. Get their take on what happened. Guide them to the best solutions and course of actions after they have learned from their mistakes.

At the outset of a working relationship, instill confidence in your people. Help them envision their future optimistically. And help them develop a growth mindset, a mindset that says, “I can do this. I can adapt. I can hustle and work hard until this is accomplished.” Also, help them see their past wins, and work on some smaller wins together.

In the religious arena, specifically Christianity, there is an acronym used to explain faith…

Forsaking
All
I
Trust
Him

….the idea that you repent and turn away from everything you used to depend on for salvation, and entirely trust in Jesus for that salvation. Not intending this to be a Sunday school lesson, I think this is a beautiful picture of how it works in the realm of influence, too. You have to let go of controlling your people, let go of trying to micro-manage them, let go of trying to force their work into your preconceived notions of how things must be done, and trust them for the results. You do that when you get on a plane –  you let the pilot fly it, and navigate it, and all those other elements of what’s involved in getting from here to there at 25,000 feet in the air. You do it when you elect to have surgery – you let the surgeon cut you up in unforeseen ways and then patch you up and let you walk out of the hospital in the same day, (quite miraculous these days, if you ask me.) So, let you your people go to do awesome, miraculous things. And when they succeed, they will return the trust to you. And when this happens consistently, you will be building influence in your people.

A Christmas Memory

A Christmas Memory

In December of 2014, I was without a vehicle, (as I am now,) and frequently had to walk to and from work. At that time, I lived in a different apartment complex than I do now, about 5 miles away from work, which turned out to be about a 2 hour walk. In the snow. Uphill. Both ways. Just kidding about the in-the-snow/uphill/both-ways part. Except for when it was snowing. And the places where there were hills. Both ways. I always wore my hiking boots to work, because I never knew if I might have to walk. 80% of the time I could find rides. The other times, I walked. I was exhausted by the time I got home, usually after 11:00pm, but I really always enjoyed the walks.

One particular evening, actually the first eveningI walked home, it was particularly nice. It was cold, in the upper thirties, and I was prepared with extra shirt, gloves, toboggan cap, and winters hiking coat. I initially approached the walk with some fear and loathing. But once I began walking, I began to enjoy it. I donned my earphones and iPod and listened to a self created Christmas playlist with a variety of music offerings. I carried a small flashlight to make drivers aware of my presence.

With a full moon out, and some light cloud cover that played across the moon occasionally, the night was well lit. The smell of smoke from fireplaces perfumed the sweet, winter air. The first hour of the walk was somewhat boring, but once I reached Travis Street, our town’s Main Street, the walk became much more pleasant. I started seeing buildings and businesses that I was familiar with from when I was a child. To entertain myself, with the backdrop of the Christmas music through my earphones, (for some reason the Chicago Greatest Christmas Hits album dominated the shuffle function,) I made up certain scenarios about some of the shops I passed. A tattoo parlor next to a tax office next to a pet grooming business provided an interesting context. One business, I want to say a mortgage office, was formerly a small home with a wrap around front porch. I playfully entertained the thought of camping out on the front porch, speculating if anybody who might have lived there, (despite that it was a business front,) would run me off if discovered. Of course, I trudged on.

Once I get to the Sherman Public Library, I’m at about the halfway point of my trek home. Lots of fond childhood memories in that place. One block further South and I pass by the long vacated Sherman Opera House, which also formerly housed Atherton’s Music Company. This was the business where both of my parents worked for most of my childhood years. Although several different businesses had come and gone since the thirty year plus run of Atherton’s in that locale, it still remains to me the main landmark of downtown Sherman.

Christmas decorations lace the streetlamp posts, and some storefronts are playfully decorated. Once I get to the Main Square, I pass by Kelly Square, one of the main features of downtown Sherman. Although all the shops inside are closed, the last few customers of Fubeli’s, one of the nicer eating establishments in town, are lingering on the sidewalk. A few more blocks I pass by the police and fire stations, and once I cross Cherry Street, I cross over Travis, right between First Christian and First Baptist Churches. I attended First Baptist as a child, so pleasant memories flood back.

One more block, and I cross King street, and I’m on the corner of the 600 block of Travis. At 602 South Travis is one of my childhood homes. A two story house, I lived there during my 4th, 5th, and 6th grade years, right next door to Duane and Bobbie Gohlke, and their kids Josh and Jennie. I had just entered my earliest stomping ground, where I learned how to sin, I mean, cause trouble. I so wanted to explore the nooks and crannies of the neighborhood, especially all of our hiding places in the alleyway. But I thought the better of it, and marched on.

Several houses had Christmas decorations outside, which was a thrill to look at. About two blocks further South is Saint Mary’s and Saint Anne’s Catholic Churches. At Saint Anne’s, I take the side street and cross over to Crockett Street, but not without admiring the beautiful Architecture of these two fine buildings. Once on Crockett Street, I pass by several childhood friend’s homes, such as Steve and Deborah Reutelhuber’s home, and Amy Curran’s home. A lot of older, stately homes reside on both this street and Travis Street. The Christmas decorations are much more plentiful here, as well. One manor had a lighted Christmas tree in its window, and I could see further decorations within. Once again my mind began making up stories about its inhabitants, their Christmas traditions and family gatherings. All of this fantasizing takes place in a few seconds, but it seems to be a lifetime of events blurring by. I also smell Christmas smells, like the spiciness of scented pine cones and the waft of apple or other kinds of pies. Maybe it’s just neuro-association.

About four or five blocks further South comes my favorite decorated home. Decorated to the hilt with reindeer, Santa’s sleigh, trees, elves, inflatable figures, and a candy cane archway, it’s a treat to break up the journey. I stop to take a few pictures and just admire the gaudiness and beauty of it. About four more blocks and the residential district ends. But not before walking by Forest Avenue Baptist Church. I recall a former church acquaintance of mine posting baby dedication photos from a service at this church to Facebook. Another acquaintance attends here. I feel a nostalgia to events I don’t own. I feel a bond that transcends familiarity. I move on.

Three blocks later and I’m at the intersection where Travis and Crockett Streets merge. I cross over to the East side of Travis again, and walk by the cemetery. Again, stories being made up in my mind to keep my mind distracted from my mounting exhaustion. At this point in the journey I’ve reached the most difficult part, because it is about 6-7 blocks of uphill walking on a considerably more narrow road with no shoulders and sometimes a steep decline on both sides.
I pass by a laundromat, and behind it there is a house once again decorated for Christmas. I am in the country now. Beyond the few last buildings are fields and wooded areas that surround Post Oak creek. On the West side of Travis is a paint and auto body shop that belongs to the father of an acquaintance from high school days. The sky is clear, the moon is visible, and Baroque Christmas chamber and Choral music is playing on my iPod. There is a narrow, two lane no-shoulder bridge crossing Post Oak Creek approaching that I have to navigate and time carefully. A look forward, a look backward, a look forward again, and I cross over, increasing my pace. About three more blocks distance to go.

I see a walking figure coming my way. Although I’m certain and confident no one really intends bad will, I do pay attention carefully. All I see is a shadow moving on the other side of the road. No verbal greeting, just two ships passing by in the night. I cross over to the side road that leads to the entrance of Camelot Apartments, take a shortcut across the field like lawn in front of the buildings, climb up a rather steep hill, stumbling but not falling over tree branches littering the slope. I cut between two buildings, cross the street to my apartment, fumble with frozen fingers with my keys for five minutes, open the door, enter, and…..whew!

I give time for my body to defrost, pour a cup of hot tea, undress and put on my pjs. Peeling my khakis off is painful, like tearing off a layer of skin. Once blasting the heater at full blast, after ten minutes, I gain feeling in my hands again, although what I’m feeling is not so pleasant. However, the exhaustion and pain at the moment is overshadowed by the pleasure of the journey and the simple fact that….I am home.