Thursday, June 12, 2008

Follow the Leader

Because I didn't have enough to do, I decided to enroll in distance studies with George Wythe College. Just kidding. I have plenty to do. My husband thinks I'm crazy (secretly I agree with him), but I need a Leadership Education and working with a George Wythe College mentor is the best way I know of to get one.

What is a Leadership Education you ask? It’s education for leaders. No really, that’s what it is. Leaders throughout history have been educated with a common set of principles and experiences. These principles used to be common knowledge in the U.S. and then we got sidetracked by socialization and job training.

You may now be wondering, “But don’t you have a degree from BYU?” Yes I do, and it was a wonderful professional degree that has served me well but it wasn’t a Leadership Education. There is a movement underway to go back to this classical model of education. A lot of people have become alarmed by the lack of truly great leadership in America today. We’re not just talking about politicians either. It’s much bigger than that. We need people who know how to think for themselves and solve problems in our families, homes, communities, businesses, and of course government – that’s what leadership is.

I want to prepare my children to be leaders and I don’t think I can do that without setting the example first. So, I need a Leadership Education. I’ve spent the last 4 years learning about Leadership Education (read the book, A Thomas Jefferson Education by Oliver DeMille if you’re curious) and studying on my own. It’s been a wonderful love of learning phase for me but I know it’s time for me to move into scholar phase and for that, I need a mentor. So, I enrolled with George Wythe College distance studies.

How’s it going you ask? Amazing! I’m learning so much! I love having a mentor! I can hardly keep up with everything I’m trying to do but it’s worth it. I’m currently studying leadership and art history. I’m reading and writing and discussing and growing and it’s affecting every area of my life. I highly recommend the experience.

I’m going to start posting my school papers here. Following is my first one.

Principles of Leadership
Inspired by Meditations by Marcus Aurelius

I have been studying Marcus Aurelius’s “Meditations” and though I find much of his Stoic philosophy repugnant, I have been inspired to learn and apply some of the principles he discusses.

Aurelius urges one to develop the skill of listening to others. He wrote: “Accustom yourself to attend carefully to what is said by another, and as much as it is possible, try to inhabit the speaker’s mind.”

“In discourse you must attend to what is said, and in every action you must observe what is being done. And in the latter you should see immediately what end is intended, but in the former watch carefully what thing is signified. “

“Direct your attention to what is said. Let your understanding enter into the things that are done and the things that are doing them.”

I like the way Steven Covey says it even better, “Seek first to understand, then to be understood.” I believe this is an important principle for a leader to master. Recently I had an epiphany regarding this principle, followed by an opportunity to apply it. I am currently working with a leadership committee to build a TJED community with several LEMI certified Commonwealth Schools. This week I had the opportunity to listen to an experienced Commonwealth School founder describe her experience working with other parents to organize a school. One part of her story really struck me. She spoke about the process they went through to create a constitution for their school. She said they had to work through a lot of contention before achieving resolution and “it was a beautiful thing.” She went on to explain that because she and the other parents had great respect for one another they began the discussion with the assumption that there must be something important and valid at the heart of each person’s strong opinions. They continued to talk and listen until they could understand the other person’s perspective. It became clear and simple to resolve each issue. In addition, the outcome was far better than anyone could have achieved independently.

As I listened to this story I realized that my group never experienced contention and that I did most of the talking while others nodded their heads. It occurred to me that this was ridiculous and couldn’t possibly reflect how everyone really felt. So, on our next conference call, I shared my epiphany with the group. I told them I wanted to hear how they really felt about our work. I asked them to share their reasons for participating in the group, what they hoped to get out of it, and any concerns they had. Then I listened. I really listened. I tried to “direct my attention to what [was] said” and “inhabit the speaker’s mind”. Each person talked for a few minutes and there was a fervent tone in their voices that I had not heard before. There was still a surprising amount of unanimity but everyone expressed their thoughts uniquely and it really was better than head nodding. I felt inspired. I felt more respect for my colleagues. I hope that with continued practice, I will talk less and hear more.

Am I Qualified for the Work?
Aurelius urges frequent personal reflection. In one passage he suggests that we should ask ourselves whether we are qualified for a given task or not. He questioned, “Is my understanding sufficient for this or not? If it is sufficient, I use it for the work as an instrument given by universal nature. But if it is not sufficient, then either I retire from the work and give way to him who is able to do it better—unless there be some reason why I ought not to do so—or I do it as well as I can, taking to help me the man who, with the aid of my ruling principle, can do what is now fit and useful for the general good.” He refers to understanding or, what I would call knowledge, but I believe the principle encompasses more. I would state it this way: If we do not have the knowledge, skill, and resources to perform a given task well, we should abandon the work until we become qualified or revise the task to fit our situation.

This idea surprised me. It is bold and logical. A coward could not do it. I am reminded of a time when I should have applied this principle and didn’t. I was working as an Account Executive for a small marketing agency. The agency was struggling financially which led to layoffs and increased workloads for the remaining employees. I was assigned a number of projects and accounts far beyond what I could manage well. One coworker saw my workload and told me, “That’s impossible.” I knew he was right but I was scared. I was scared that if I didn’t say yes and try to do it, I would probably be laid off immediately. I did not have the courage to “abandon the work.” I should have talked to my boss and made it clear that I could not possibly do a good job on that amount of work. I said yes when I should have said no. There may have been unpleasant consequences but I believe they would have been preferable to the ones I experienced.

I began spending 12-18 hours each day at the office to try and get my work done. I taxed my body and spirit beyond their capacity and they began to fail me. My work became sloppy. After several weeks, the agency fired me. It was the most humiliating experience of my life. It took me years to recover my confidence and personal integrity. If I had said no in the beginning I might have been laid off but I wouldn’t have been humiliated and I would have retained my integrity.

Press Forward with Compassion
Frequently, when someone is trying to do good, opposition rises up to stop them. Aurelius warns us of the real danger we may face at such a moment,

“As to those who try to stand in your way when you are proceeding according to right reason will not be able to turn you aside from your proper action, so neither let them drive you from your benevolent feelings toward them, but be on your guard equally in both matters, not only in the matter of steady judgment and action, but also in the matter of gentleness toward those who try to hinder or otherwise trouble you. For this also is a weakness, to be vexed at them, as well as to be diverted from your course of action and to give way through fear; for both are equally deserters from their post, the man who does it through fear, and the man who is alienated from him who is by nature a kinsman and a friend.”

I believe this advice contains a true principle: When you are doing good and someone tries to stop you, press forward and do not let yourself be poisoned with bad feelings towards your opposition.

This week I had an opportunity to apply this principle. I have been working with others to build a Leadership Education community in my local area. I participate in a few online home school discussion boards where I frequently post invitations to Leadership Education seminars and events. This week a raging debate about whether the Leadership Education philosophy was good or bad erupted on one of these discussion boards. Things got very heated on both sides of the debate. One individual posted a sincere question, wanting to know if Leadership Education was a valid philosophy. I responded with my opinion that it was and offered encouragement and suggestions for how a family could investigate and decide the question themselves. Another individual responded to my comment with a personal attack. It was a difficult moment for me, but I was able to stop and think before acting. After pondering the situation, I was able to imagine how my attacker might have been feeling and what was motivating her. I decided to ignore the attack and remove myself from the debate. She had not diverted me from my course. She may affect the result I’m trying to achieve, but I will continue to press forward. As I continued to ponder the incident, I stopped feeling hurt or angry at her, and instead felt compassion for her. I sensed that she was scared and defensive. I doubt she is proud of how she handled herself. Instead of letting her actions poison my feelings for her, I prayed that she would be able to overcome her fear and find some peace.

1 comment:

Jarrett Family said...

Hey Jen it's your sister-in-law Heidi! I finally got a blog and found your blog so now we can be blogging buddies! Our blog is Isabel is getting so big! I love the video of Isabel doing that rap and she is such a good dancer!! We can't wait to see you guys in Aug! Also I can't wait for you guys to meet Annabelle!! She is such a cute, sweet, adorable baby! (but what do you expect I am her mother!! jk :)) That is awesome that you are doing that leadership education. You Jen are always on the go and doing something. I saw your profile on the lds website and it is way cute! You guys did a really good job and we are always praying for you guys. One thing that I did notice was on the part when Kelly is talking about his family he said that Isabel has 2 cousins on his side, but now thats a little out dated because she has 5 cousins on his side now. Just thought I would let you know. :) Well we love you guys! I would love to here from you! Love Heidi