Resilience requires being our best selves more consistently

Everyone is better than you are… (at something). Which makes it imperative that you connect and ask for help. At the same time that we encounter this humbling idea, we also need to acknowledge that you are better at something than anyone you meet. Everyone you meet needs something you can do better than they can. —Seth Godin

Each of us is a bundle of strengths and “weaknesses,” which means there are two ways of thinking about personal improvement—remedy our flaws or more consistently use our strengths.

While each of us has a few “flaws” that may deserve prompt attention, we are far more likely to achieve our individual goals and collective goals when we and others hone and persistently use our strengths.

That’s what resilient people do, I think.

Rather than spending an inordinate amount of time focusing on or lamenting their deficits, or trying to correct those of others, they identify their strengths and apply them at every opportunity consistent with their values and goals.

Put another way, resilient people more consistently offer their “best selves” to the world—that is, the part of them that is most influential and creates well-being and energy among those with whom they interact.

As an example, I have learned that I am my “best self” when I use my talents for planning, writing, innovating, and advocating for things that are important to me.

Over time I have learned that I am far happier, productive, and effective when I more consistently use my strengths and the synergy generated among them to serve purposes greater than myself.

Some things to consider:

What are the attributes of relationships and/or environments that elicit your best self?

What does your best self look like at work? With family and friends? In addressing issues that concern your community and nation?

Are there common strengths among those best selves? What can you do to develop and use those strengths more consistently?

Together we can achieve what none of us can accomplish alone

Without a community, it is nearly impossible to achieve voice: it takes a village to raise a Rosa Parks. Without a community, it is nearly impossible to exercise the “power of one” in a manner that multiplies: it took a village to translate Park’s act of personal integrity into social change. In a mass society like ours, community rarely comes ready-made. But creating community in the places where we live and work does not mean abandoning other parts of our lives to become full-time organizers. The steady companionship of two or three kindred spirits can kindle the courage we need to speak and act as citizens. —Parker Palmer

Resilient people understand that sustaining a commitment to significant change requires the support, guidance, and inspiration of a community.

But not all groups are created equal in their resilience and effectiveness.

Groups that make a difference:

• have skillful, committed leaders who maintain focus and momentum over time,

• ensure that group time is used productively to achieve the group’s goals,

• have a stable core membership,

• engage in high-impact activities,

• follow through on plans with accountability for results, and

• train group members to successfully complete agreed upon activities.

In schools such collective work requires strong teamwork which can take a variety of forms.

In the area of social justice and political change the group RESULTS sets the standard for grass roots advocacy. Its purpose is to end poverty by “improving access to education, health, and economic opportunity” through advocacy and education of policy makers.

More recently “Indivisible” groups are forming and beginning to take action in many communities throughout the United States. Their purpose is to create local pressure on members of Congress to counter the most destructive policies and actions of the new administration, and even at this early date it appears that they are beginning to have some success.

Indivisible’s advocacy is based “…on a simple idea: Donald Trump’s agenda doesn’t depend on Donald Trump. It depends on your elected members of Congress and whether they go along with him—or whether they fight back.”

If any or all of these approaches are appealing, I encourage you to get involved.

Remember:

• that demagogues win when citizens feel overwhelmed and become resigned to the status quo, and

• that together we can achieve what none of us can accomplish alone.

Remembering Rick DuFour

Like hundreds of others, I have been following the hopes and disappointments Rick expressed over many months in his Caring Bridge updates.

And although recently the end appeared inevitable and merciful, I was deeply saddened when it occurred last week.

Three attributes come to mind when I think of Rick.

Tenacity. Against the illness that eventually took his life. In promoting ideas and practices that would benefit tens if not hundreds of thousands of teachers, administrators, and students around the world.

Engagement. In study and writing. In pursuit of excellence in all parts of his life. With Professional Learning Community colleagues and “students.” With Adlai Stevenson High School District 125. With Learning Forward (which was known as the National Staff Development Council when I first came to know Rick more than 25 years ago). With those with whom he shared the travails of his illness and treatment as he proved a steadfast and honest correspondent from a land he had not hoped to visit.

Love. For Becky and for his family and friends. For his work in all its manifestations.

I have heard it said that each of us dies three times—when our bodies lose their life force, when our physical manifestation is interred, and when our names are no longer spoken.

While Rick’s physical presence is no longer with us, his name will be passed down among generations of educators as an idea or practice is explained or his spirit is evoked as an exemplar of what we individually and collectively hope to become.

When you think you’re going crazy…

[I]t’s always possible that Trump himself is simply unable to distinguish between fact and fiction, or can’t be bothered to try. But the darker possibility is that the conflation is deliberate, not with the intention of deceiving, of substituting false for true, but of disrupting our ability to tell the two apart, or indeed, by advertising how vast is his own unconcern for the distinction, to lead us in time to be as indifferent, if only out of fatigue. —Andrew Coyne

lie: intransitive verb: to make an untrue statement with intent to deceive 

There are few greater tests to one’s resilience than to be in the presence of sustained lying.

A steady drip of lies, like water on rock, can gradually shape the contours of reality and even our sanity.

Here are three contemporary forms of lying that are shaping our political reality and sanity:

1. gas·lighting/verb, gerund, or present participle: manipulate someone by lying or other psychological means into questioning their own sanity

The repetition of a lie in the face of contrary evidence, including what we can see with our own eyes, can cause recipients of the lie to question their sense of reality.

I remember a story from decades ago, which may or may not be true, about a professional baseball player who asked his manager what he should have done when his wife caught him in bed with another woman. “Say you weren’t with the woman,” the manager said. “But she saw me,” the player repeated. “Tell her you don’t know what she’s talking about,” the manager replied. “And keep saying it.”

Big lie: noun: a false statement of outrageous magnitude employed in the belief that a lesser falsehood would not be credible, especially when used as a propaganda device by a politician or official body

A leading contemporary example is the “birther” big lie employed by our current president in an effort to discredit and undermine the presidency of his predecessor, which also served the purpose of attracting to him many of his core followers.

“Alternative facts”: a form of mind control and dominance used by demagogues in which information unsupported by objective reality is declared to be true (you can learn more about the history of this term here)

Examples: “You say 2 + 2 = 4. I say 2 + 2 = 5. Who’s to say which is right. Certainly not the lying media.”

You say “Climate change has widespread support in the scientific community. I say that it’s just a theory and that China thought it up. My theory is just as good as your theory.”

Taken together, the unrelenting landscape of falsehoods makes it understandable that Americans may be feeling a bit crazy these days and why 1984 has become a bestseller in recent weeks.

Why do leaders lie?

• because lies can be used to manipulate public policy, intimidate enemies, and exaggerate accomplishments

• because lies can be used as loyalty tests to see who repeats them, which is especially important for authoritarian leaders who value loyalty beyond all other things.

What can we do in the face of such lying and manipulation?

1. First, call lying what it is. Don’t minimize it by calling it “fake news” or “fabrication” or “falsehoods” or “alternative facts.”

2. Recognize that you are not crazy and that you are not alone.

3. If in doubt, do a reality check. Talk with others you respect to maintain your confidence in “reality.”

Stay in those conversations as long as necessary to restore your sanity and to give yourself courage to label the lying for what it is and to confront it at every opportunity.

Given that such leaders prevail when we become overwhelmed by and resigned to their lying, what are you doing to maintain your sanity and motivation for challenging it?

What do you do when your leader is a dem•a•gogue?

dem·a·gogue\ˈde-mə-ˌgäg\noun: a political leader who tries to get support by making false claims and promises and using arguments based on emotion rather than reason

What do you do when your leader deliberately provokes the worst instincts in his followers?

What do you do when most people don’t want that person to be the leader, but nonetheless he or she is?

What do you do when you are anxious and fearful for the future of your “organization” and what it stands for?

What do you do to preserve your emotional well-being and even physical health when it is challenged by the consequences of such leadership?

The answer to these and related questions are obviously not simple ones.

And while I don’t have “the answer,” I offer the “6 Cs of resilience” to stimulate your thinking and perhaps guide your actions:

Clarity about values, ideas, goals, and strategies to accomplish those goals;

Commitment to persist through difficult times;

Communication that seeks first to understand and that is both respectful and assertive;

Community to gain clarity, support, guidance, inspiration, and the power of collective action;

Courage to do what is uncomfortable and even frightening; and

Care, beginning with self care. (If we don’t take care of ourselves the other Cs will be difficult if not impossible to achieve.)

Taken together, the “6Cs” enable us to take well-considered stands about things that are important to us and to join with others to achieve together what we cannot accomplish alone.

Should you find yourself with a leader who is a demagogue, what will you do to promote your own well-being and the resilience of the “organization”?

I am relying on the long-term resilience of…

• the U.S. Constitution and the rule of law

• the courage of countless individuals within government and outside of it who speak truth to power in the face of bullying and other forms of intimidation

• the power of existing and yet-to-be established groups that will empower citizens to stand for America’s founding principles and place in the world community

• a free and independent press that will relentlessly seek and tell the truth to the highest journalistic standards

considered judgment over raw opinion and impulsivity

• science and rational evidence-based decision making over ignorance and superstition

• the historic capacity of Americans to resist tyranny wherever it may arise

sanity-preserving humor over arrogance and vindictiveness

generosity over greed

a sense of “we” over “me”

Most of all, I’m relying on the resilience of love to prevail over hate, inclusiveness over exclusiveness, respect over disrespect, civility over incivility, and reasoned debate over emotion and propaganda.

I don’t know if any one of these qualities will be sufficient, but I am hopeful that in combination they will provide a brighter future for all of us.

In what do you place your hope?

The essential qualities of effective leadership

In recent weeks I have been thinking more deeply about effective leadership to determine if my views should be revised given the recent presidential election.

First, my definition of “effective leaders“: Effective leaders achieve the organization’s goals while strengthening the organization and the relationships within it for future work.

Whether we are thinking about the President of the United States or the person who is one level above us in the hierarchy of our workplace, I believe that effective leaders:

• Create with others a shared, compelling vision of a desired future

• Generate and help spread positive emotions

• Make decisions based on sound evidence and reasoning

• Are open to being persuaded by the views of others

• Treat others with respect

• Are exemplars of how they want others to think and act

• Have integrity, particularly in telling the truth and keeping promises

• Adapt to changing circumstances while staying true to core values and principles

What would you add to or subtract from my list? 

Are all of these attributes essential, or are some so much more important than others that a leader and organization will fail without them?


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