Monday, June 25, 2007

Journeying With Joe

In the nine days since my epiphany-laden day at the bookstore, I have gone deep into the works of famed mythology professor Joseph Campbell. It's been a bit like drinking out of a fire hose; there is so much to take in and absorb, and applying the learning to day-to-day functionality will take some time to gain momentum. In a sense this feels like the largest corpus of learning I've attempted to tackle since my Master of Divinity studies of a decade ago. It is filling in a lot of missing pieces for my interdisciplinary way of looking at people, leadership and organizations.

The exciting aspect is that as I have mentally concocted a garden to receive these new ideas, they are beginning to bloom in the soil. I am delighted with this new perspective on potential metaphors and teaching points that connect aspects of mythology, the arts, literature and history to the organizational development practices and approaches I embrace. Each day holds new surprises, new potential for seeds to bloom.

Whenever I get in these deep learning modes I am rather annoyed that I have to stop and eat or sleep. I guess that is evidence of an intrinsic passion set ablaze. Life has taught me not to ignore the smoke but head straight to its source.

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Saturday, June 16, 2007

A Life-Changing Day

Today I experienced one of those epiphanies wrapped like an unexpected gift, an insight teeming with internal joy and unleashing a subtle trickle of tears.

I had already been contemplating how I might take my writing, speaking and coaching endeavors to another level, to move from the transactional to the influential—from a “doer” to a “thought leader.” Today I embraced a rare Saturday opportunity to spend several hours by myself in a bookstore, always an incubator of inspiration. My goal was to use this quality time to press toward further clarity on reaching this higher floor, with the hope of a breakthrough.

Barely 45 minutes into my bookstore musing, I was perusing a copy of the Joseph Campbell and Bill Moyers book The Power of Myth. While reading phrases such as the whole earth bloomed like a sacred place and the soul’s high adventure (is) the quest of mortals to grasp the reality of God, the floodgates of insight opened with psychic violence. I had to step back in order to avoid hindering the raging passage.

What presented itself was yet another delicate synthesis, a vision of how to bridge two strong areas of interest rather than limiting myself to an either-or approach. This vision united two loves and made them singular, much in the same way that two souls become one at the marriage altar or the untrained manner in which a parent with any degree of soul can equally adore both of his children.

The revealed synthesis brought together my love and natural instincts for a wide umbrella I will loosely call the “arts” (and here I include spirituality, myths, motifs, music, film, visual arts, literature, and so forth); and the shaping of organizational life (through organizational development work such as leadership development, coaching, training, mentoring, and so forth).

The sacred life and the business/non-profit life, coming together with the ability to form and influence one another for the sake of progress; personal or corporate mission/purpose fulfillment; and sheer human delight.

This is not a new concept, but one needing fresh expressions in conjunction with the search for meaning and navigation of rapid change that has infected so many of us. In a previous blog entry, I identified my “life mission” as leveraging words to help others thrive and discover eternal truths, and today’s epiphany added some arms and legs to a focused, niche approach for just how I might do this.

And it reminded me of how I am already doing it. Dramatic sketches utilized in the context of business training, such as the “Superman” skit I wrote and performed last year for the entire middle management team at my company. Raphael’s School of Athens painting as the central image for the January 2007 launching of a new series of classes at work called the School of Leadership Arts. Numerous anecdotes and quotes from various thinkers, peppered into classes I teach and coaching moments with leaders. In a sometimes raw and sometimes refined sense, I have been doing this for years, but now these inclinations and joyful behaviors come into clearer context as what I might do best.

My time in the bookstore also reminded me of why I love what I love. Why I cherish a deep conversation, devour books, keep watching Star Wars films, play the soundtrack of Les Miserables and the classical piece Adagio for Strings over and over, and am desperate to more fully get my arms around the works of the Greeks, Romans and Renaissance artists. Why I love to write short and longer pieces that in some fashion employ metaphors or ancient references that invite people to their own present-day a-ha moments.

Needless to say, I purchased the Campbell and Moyers book.

I am competent and passionate in the arenas of writing, teaching, facilitating, speaking and coaching, and want to achieve excellence in each of these. I would like to empower such a move with action steps such as further professional business training; individual study; quality relationships; the insights and skills offered by the successes and failures of sheer experience and practice; and the earning of a doctorate degree—all while continuing to write books and articles that influence rather than simply inform. Keeping one foot in the business/non-profit world (regardless of the industry) and slowly extending another foot into the academy, I hope to be of wise service to both.

At times of exhaustion I feel that I want to sneak off to an island or mountain somewhere and just write, but I keep getting drawn to the shaping of organizational life and the equipping of others.

Perhaps I should pay closer attention to how my feet take me toward community rather than isolation. I do wish I had more time to write, and cannot ignore or justify this restlessness in an effort to invalidate my feelings. But I am coming to understand how my interactions with community add layers of fine gold to the wealth of the words I might compose. After all, my personal faith acknowledges that God in his triune nature is community, and that the souls of mortals (as Campbell says) do indeed thirst to grasp his reality.

Recently I wrote an article about a Tampa, Fla., man who spends several nights per week serving homeless persons. Once homeless himself, Doug Brown has been engaged in his ministry for 25 years. A colleague describes him as “a man who has found his passion.”

I feel that I have found my passion. But it is not altogether a new discovery, like embarking upon an unseen world. It more closely resembles the slow unveiling of that aforementioned gift, one crisp piece of wrapping paper at a time, one layer of the onion per moment. I have recognized and tasted the numerous elements and possibilities of my passion for many years, but now am reveling in the fact that my spiritual, emotional, physical and intellectual drivers are unified in a vocational identity that serves real human and societal needs while serving God.

I only hope that I feel the same way tomorrow!

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Friday, June 08, 2007

What Are You Known For?

Lately I have been giving some focused thought to what I am currently “known for,” and what I want to be known for. The corporate world calls this "branding."

This is a natural progression from my recent musing about arriving at the “half-time” of life (as discussed in a recent post), and some detailed work on my “life mission” and commitments going forward. I have attempted to take an honest, rigorous examination of how others might perceive me in terms of vocational identity, and how I would like to be perceived—realizing that such perceptions will impact the fulfillment of my mission.

As I have stated, my mission is leveraging words to help others thrive and discover eternal truths. So I have probed my activities to determine the extent to which I am currently carrying out this mission, and what these activities communicate about my identity.

Considering how others might describe me, I have come to terms with the fact that some persons perceive me as a career-hopper. After all, I have worked in several different industries (entertainment; journalism; pastoral ministry; financial services; and now health care), and none of them for longer than six years on a full-time basis. It could be easy, from a distance, to peg me as possessing an incurably restless spirit or being a person who simply does not know what he wants.

I have at times used the same language to sort of self-condemn, but in the past couple of years have received deeper clarity concerning the key threads that have tied together my various jobs. They have all been contingent upon the intentional use of words, whether written or spoken, whether conveyed to individuals, small groups or large audiences. Words have been the tools of success during my journey of vocation. And I have realized that none of these jobs went to waste; I have used insights, skills and experiences from each of them to impact the work I am doing today.

And so, having clarified my own perception of vocational identity, I am intentional—but not-overbearing—about communicating to others how I synthesize my working experiences and how they shape the work I am doing now and plan to do in the future. Rather than being perceived as a restless job-hopper, I hope I am steadily earning the right to be seen as someone who is self-aware, authentic and unafraid to follow his heart or go against conventional wisdom. I am hoping that rather than being seen as a jack-of-all-trades, I will earn the privilege of being viewed as an educated person who synthesizes all that has come before in order to unleash excellence with what lies at hand.

But within the context of this general perception of identity, there is a secondary aspect of what I want to be known for.

I spend most of my time—between my full-time work with Health First Inc. and my own writing and speaking business—facilitating groups, coaching individuals and writing. I believe, based on feedback I have received from others and my own internal radar, that I have gotten pretty good at all three of these.

Admittedly, I would like to be known as not just good but consistently excellent in these areas. In particular, when it comes to my writing, I want to be known as a person of influence.

I am noting the distinctions between the projects I tackle that are “transactional” in nature, and the ones that embody “thought leadership.” I have spent many years writing transactional pieces, where I am documenting someone else’ s accomplishments through a process of gathering facts and reporting as objectively as possible. I have probably written thousands of these types of pieces for newspapers, magazines, e-zines and marketing departments.

I also have had some occasions to write perspective pieces, a couple of book manuscripts, and some big picture feature articles in which I have had more leeway to express how I see the world and offer action steps for making that same world a better place.

These latter endeavors are the occasions I would like to multiply, as I seek to transition to being known as a “thought leader” who leverages words rather than simply a “doer” who happens to write. I would like to be a person of influence rather than someone watching or talking about all of the other influencers.

Please understand: The end goal here is not simply to have others speak of me in a certain way. It is to recognize what gives me the most personal satisfaction and sense of accomplishing my mission, and to do those things. At the end of the day, the accurate perceptions that people have about me offer the evidence of mission fulfillment or mission failure. Fulfillment is the destination, and perception tells me whether I am getting there; and the greater the earned perception of influence, the greater the earned influence itself.

This is where I am at. But having said all of this, I throw the challenge back to you: What are you currently known for, and what do you want to be known for? What is your brand? And as you wrestle with this, consider another question: How much of your time is spent doing tasks or watching what others are doing, and how much is spent influencing the things that people believe and do?

I believe this exercise of defining a realistic landscape of perception will be helpful to you. If embraced with care and effort, it should inspire you to recognize the behaviors and perspectives that you want to release and the ones that you want to increase.

Remember, the goal is “life mission fulfillment.” Peel back the layers of perception and give it a try!

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Tuesday, June 05, 2007

Waking Up Soon

More than two years I began the process of helping a couple of Central Florida-based leadership consultants write a book based on their ideas and training practices. Well, the project is finally coming out in a few weeks and is titled Wide Awake Leadership. I'll say more about it when it actually arrives, but for now you can check out my co-authors at Awake Consulting.


Monday, June 04, 2007

Books to Read

I'm reading some incredible material these days, from diverse sources but unified in its ability to help me continue to develop as a personal and a professional. Here's a quick snapshot of some of the volumes that occupy my home and office "space" at the present moment:

The Story of My Experiments With Truth, by Mahatma Gandhi (autobiography of one of the 20th Century's most influential individuals)

Go Tell It on the Mountain, by James Baldwin (a classic work of literature from the 20th century)

On Becoming a Leader, by Warren Bennis (a modern classic by world's leading expert on leadership)

The Essential Drucker, by Peter Drucker (a collection of essential writings from the world's leading expert on management)

The World Is Flat, by Thomas Friedman (a bombshell of a book for understanding how rapid change has completely re-oriented the way individuals and organizations work and thrive)

The Fifth Discipline, Updated Edition, by Peter Senge (another modern classic that is a must-read for those intrigued by systems thinking)

I need a 25th hour in the day just for reading!

The ongoing challenge, of course, is applying the content of what I read to real-time needs and opportunities. I find I am constantly updating and refining my systems for how I increase my understanding, character and performance based on what I have read. Just as the gaining of knowledge never reaches a conclusion in this life, the process of such refinement knows no coda as well.

So what are you reading these days? I'm afraid to ask this question, because it could very well prompt me to buy even more books...

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