American Experiment: The Symbols

It always fascinates me how people, many of whom have done nothing in service to this country or made any sacrifice to represent this country, have something to say when people of color don’t honor the USA the way THEY think it should be honored.

CPT Humayun Khan DIED in service to this country but it didn’t stop so called “patriots” from disrespecting his parents and his memory when they spoke out against bigotry.

Gabby Douglas and her family made sacrifices so she would be able to continue the streak of American gymnasts who have won Olympic Gold in the Individual All-Around competition in 2012. She is one of the reasons Team USA was so dominant in 2012 and this year, but when this 20-year old stood at attention versus putting her hand over her heart during our National Anthem, she was treated as if she had committed treason.

This week, the person of color who has most upset those who would dictate how and when Americans honor America is San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick. What I found most interesting about the criticism of Kaepernick’s decision to no longer stand during the National Anthem is the idea that he was disrespecting the symbols that give him the right to speak.

But isn’t the opposite true…that the ideas and sacrifices behind the symbols represent the freedom of expression Kaepernick exercised? Tweet

Our freedoms, to include expressing a difference of opinion, are what attract freedom loving peoples to this country and make us different from countries where dissenters are jailed or executed, protest is violently squashed, and the freedom to criticize government doesn’t exist.

And is there anything MORE American than protest? From the Boston Tea Party to the march to Selma, to the unrest in Ferguson, protest has been a catalyst, if not THE catalyst for change in this country especially when it comes to race. This veteran swore to “support and defend” the experiment that is America so that every American could experience the freedoms promised to all Americans, to include the freedom to protest America. But every American has a different role to play in making the American experiment in democracy and diversity a success.

And each of us has the right, even the responsibility to speak out when there is injustice against any American. Tweet

The freedom of expression afforded to all Americans includes NOT honoring the symbols of America when America is NOT honoring its citizens.

“…And my country is the great American Republic. My country, right or wrong; if right, to be kept right; and if wrong, to be set right.” ~ Carl Schurz, the first German-born American ever to serve in the United States Senate Tweet

Renita Alexander, Leadership Unlocked

Present Moment

I am a planner. I believe the way to make a vision reality is to plan the route that makes the most sense and head in that direction. But we can get so caught up in preparing for the experience that we miss the experience! The trick is to keep the planning simple so we can take the time to enjoy the journey to the envisioned experience.

“Martha, Martha,” the Lord answered, “you are worried and upset about many things, but few things are needed—or indeed only one. Mary has chosen what is better, and it will not be taken away from her.” Luke 10: 41-42

Inhale Being, Exhale Doing…
Inhale Presence, Exhale Planning…
Inhale Now, Exhale Next…
Just Breathe

#ReflectionsWithRenita

American Myth: The Western

I remember watching westerns as a child; not a lot of movies but TV shows like Bonanza and The Big Valley. But if you did watch the big Hollywood westerns, you probably had a strong sense of the good guys and the bad guys….the noble settlers versus the ignoble savage; the strong, silent cowboy versus the blood-thirsty savage; civilization versus savagery…

And then we became more self-aware as a nation. We realized the people we labeled “savages” were simply protecting their land, which they viewed as sacred, and their way of life from the entitled interlopers. Avatar could be considered a modern “western” told from the perspective of the natives.

We learned that the myth of the American cowboy derives from Mexican as well as Southern American sources.

So much of what we think we believe about ourselves comes from what we are taught directly from our parents and educational institutions and what we perceive indirectly from society.  We are  influenced by soft information in all its forms and just like those who don’t live in this country base their beliefs about American on what they see in Hollywood movies, we perceive ourselves and other based on what we see in the media.

The justifications, assumptions and attitudes about peoples of color during the founding of this country shaped government policies and artistic expressions, which in turn influence our current attitudes. Tweet this now!Tweet

Long past the time the “settlers” of this country sought to eliminate its original inhabitants by forcibly removing them from their lands, isolating them on reservations, or assimilating them into European culture, American Indians, according to Harvard project, “State of the Native Nations” experience epidemic levels of alcoholism, drug abuse, diabetes, and other health problems that are linked to cultural stress.

Long past the time the founders of this country built a thriving economy on the backs of a people they stole from another country, Black Americans suffer from a racist policing system, originated to enforce the subjugation of an oppressed people.

Long past the time the government of America took a portion of inhabited Mexico and declared it our largest geographical state (until they took Alaska), many Americans have decided the Mexican descendants of their Texas cousins are somehow different and less desirable than the immigrants from other locations.

To paraphrase the late Maya Angelou, when we know better, we have to do better…

The easy thing to do is focus on the symptoms of this oppression.  The hard thing is to examine how we got here.

The easy thing is to ignore the reality of racism for people of color. The hard thing is to examine why we are still here.

The easy thing is to deflect blame. The hard thing is to accept responsibility.

The easy thing is to reject new information and realities. The hard thing is to transform through a deeper understanding of truth.

Transformation often only comes when an individual becomes uncomfortable in their current existence, when what they know becomes more uncomfortable than what they fear. Tweet this now!Tweet

Are you ready for a change?

Something to think about:

How uncomfortable are you right now?

Renita Alexander, Leadership Unlocked

Be Still and Listen

Our magnificently complex bodies are intricately wired to give us multiple ways of knowing what we are supposed to know and do. That gut feeling is telling you something you may be unable to articulate logically but that doesn’t mean it is false. The dream you keep having isn’t less real because it happens when you’re asleep. The desire you have to make a difference is from God. When we listen to our inner voice, access our highest wisdom, feel our most authentic self, our choices become crystal clear.

“There is a voice inside of you that whispers all day long, “I feel this is right for me, I know that this is wrong.” No teacher, preacher, parent, friend or wise man can decide what’s right for you–just listen to the voice that speaks inside.” ~ Shel Silverstein

Inhale Knowing, Exhale Deception…
Inhale Reception, Exhale Rejection…
Inhale Insight, Exhale Ignoring…
Just Breathe…

#ReflectionsWithRenita

Being Human

“I am a human being, not a human doing.” ~ Kurt Vonnegut

We get caught up in the busyness of life, the doing of things we should do, the going to places we’ve committed to go to and sometimes we forget to just be. Being still gives us a chance to rest our bodies and our minds so God can get our attention. Being still allows us to access the dreams and desires God has placed in our souls…

Inhale Stillness, Exhale Busyness…
Inhale Intuition, Exhale Exhaustion…
Inhale Vision, Exhale Blindness…
Just Breathe…

#ReflectionsWithRenita

The ONE THING You Can do to be a Better Leader

“Leadership is a privilege afforded to you, the leader, by the people you are privileged to lead.” Renita Alexander. Tweet this now!Tweet

Have you ever had a leader go off in a meeting? If watching your leader loose control felt scary that’s because it probably triggered some immediate, primitive emotions in your emotional center, the limbic brain. Your heartbeat may have increased; you may have felt stressed or even experienced an immediate need to leave the meeting. And if the outburst and your negative reaction to it impacted you for the rest of the meeting or even longer, that’s not surprising either; once your emotions have been hijacked like this, it takes concerted effort to reign them back in.

How you respond or react to any emotional stimuli is, of course, your responsibility; an emotionally intelligent leader tries to avoid YOUR negative reaction by controlling how HE perceives and reacts to input.

Emotional Intelligence (EQ) guru Daniel Goleman writes in Primal Leadership that the fundamental task of the leader is to prime good feelings in those she is privileged to lead and “that occurs when the leader creates resonance – a reservoir of positivity that frees the best in people”.

“The fundamental task of the leader is to prime good feelings in those she is privileged to lead.” Daniel Goleman. Tweet this now!Tweet

The ability to consistently prime the pump of positivity requires EQ competencies like self-awareness and control. The opposite of resonance is dissonance; a dissonant leader throws people off balance and negatively impacts their performance.

I once worked with a visionary leader, which is considered to be the most effective leadership style. Unfortunately, in a crisis or when his triggers were activated, this leader often TURNED ON and then TUNED OUT others. That prevented him from being able to hear what people were saying at the very moment he MOST needed to listen. He lacked the ability to recognize his triggers or the self-control to respond instead of react in a crises and instead of priming good feelings, frequently created dissonance among his team. The resulting culture was one where other team members were reluctant to speak for fear of setting off an explosion. I personally left many a meeting discombobulated, disengaged and unable to do what I needed to.

Dissonant leaders can be effective in the short term but the toxicity they create usually negatively impacts the forward movement of the team as well as the bottom line. You can avoid negatively infecting your team by learning to lead yourself!

The ONE thing, the most important thing, and the hardest leadership challenge is leading yourself.

The hardest leadership challenge is leading yourself. Tweet this now!Tweet

That requires some understanding of you! What drives you bonkers? What do you believe about leadership? Who are some leaders that you admire? How did your immediate, intimate leadership models make you feel? You CAN become a better leader but it requires some self-development and maybe some outside, objective assistance.

Follow these steps to leading a better YOU!

Step 1: Study YOU!

Before you can become the leader you want to be, you have to know the leader you are. Self-awareness is the first step to leading yourself so spend some time understanding you…what makes you feel elated…what makes you want to stick a pencil in your eye? How do you like to receive information? What do you need to make decisions? Are you empathetic? When talking to others, are you listening to what they’re saying or just listening for a break in the conversation?

Be cognizant of your triggers, the words and actions that set you off but understand ultimately, your reaction is all about you! Do people who play the victim role make you crazy! And then make sure you’re not projecting your own experience; are others really being victims, or are you seeing victims because of your OWN victim experience.

Step 2: Study Leadership!

What makes a good leader? Many entrepreneurs focus on a business plan, attracting capital, hiring employees with no thought as to how they will LEAD their enterprise. Leadership is an art that comes easily to many people, however it can be learned and even natural leaders can fine-tune their skills to be even better.

Leadership can be learned and even natural leaders can fine-tune their skills to be even better. Tweet this now!Tweet

We can only be really good at something we have a talent for so find out what leadership characteristics come naturally to you and focus on developing those. And then try to minimize the possible negative impact of any weakness in key leadership characteristics like communication.

I was blessed to be a part of an organization with a unique tradition of experiential leadership development. None of the military branches have the luxury of hiring a “CEO” at any level from an external source, so the leadership training starts early and happens frequently. As I young officer, I was exposed to formal training, informal and formal mentoring from my superior officers and the special “polishing” that can only come from the senior non commissioned officers! I learned what worked for me, what fit my personality and I looked at each new assignment as an opportunity to reinvent myself as a leader, to take the good and not so good experiences I created or witnessed and apply them with a new team.

Step 3: Listen to Feedback!

Your mom and MAYBE one of your grandparents are the only two people who believe you’ve never made a mistake, EVER. Everyone else has some constructive criticism, an observation, and some feedback they’d like to share about something you’ve done or said. If you truly believe they have the best interests of the enterprise at heart then try to listen to what they’re saying without judgment.

Feedback was an informal, then formal part of the leadership development I experienced in the Air Force. Sometimes the feedback was hard to hear but it gave me a glimpse as to whether what I thought I was projecting was actually being perceived in the way I intended. I had to work on not being defensive and just listen to the lesson and then decide if and how to incorporate it into my leadership.

Leading yourself well is the first crucial step to leading an any enterprise!

So be intentional about how you’re leading by learning yourself and learning from others.

Something to think about:

Do you know how your leadership is affecting your team or your enterprise?

Renita Alexander, Leadership Unlocked

Enough

We are constantly bombarded with images of what we should have and want until we begin to feel that what we actually have is not enough. But that perception of “not enough” might be based on a comparison that does not reflect our actual reality. Do you have what you need? Do you have a place to live? Do you have enough to eat? Do you need the expensive car, the outrageously priced sneakers, or the designer clothes? Most importantly, will any of those things lead you to meaning and purpose?

“Let everyone be sure to do his very best, for then he will have the personal satisfaction of work done well and won’t need to compare himself with someone else” (Galatians 6:4 LB).

Inhale Enough, Exhale Want
Inhale Sufficiency, Exhale Dissatisfaction…
Inhale Contentment, Exhale Comparison…
Just Breathe…

#ReflectionsWithRenita

Abundance

America is one of the wealthiest countries in the world… rich in resources, rich in ingenuity, rich in our willingness to take risks. Our richest resource is our diverse population and the innovation that comes when differences are explored versus exploited. There is enough for all of us to have what we need, even what we want if we are willing to see the humanity in each of us and to take responsibility for using our God-given gifts to make it better for all of us.

Inhale Grace, Exhale Greed…
Inhale Sharing, Exhale Hoarding…
Inhale Contentment, Exhale Consumerism…
Just Breathe…

#ReflectionsWithRenita

3 Things to Help You Get Feedback Without Getting Upset!

During the “Black and White” gala celebrating the end of my previous life (my retirement from the Air Force), I got roasted pretty thoroughly. There was video with “actors”…my car had a starring role. Whenever the audience’s laughter lagged, there was a laugh track…featuring me.

My own laugh was the laugh track to my roast!

Prior to the event, two young officers infiltrated my office for the sole purpose of making me laugh so they could record it.

It was pretty funny.

And I understood the power of my laugh as I watched people who didn’t laugh at first, laugh at me. I also understood why some people hearing me laugh wanted/want to know “What IS that noise?”

It was great feedback for me about something that is such an authentic part of who I am. And while I can’t change the sound, I can be sensitive to and conscious of my impact on others in a way that doesn’t suppress my natural exuberance for life.

Which brings me to the real topic of this blog (no, it is not #LaughingWhileBlack)…Feedback!

I thought of my retirement party during last year’s Willow Creek Global Leadership Summit where self-awareness and feedback were frequent topics of discussion.

The presentation by Shelia Heen, author of Thanks for the Feedback (a sentiment most of us have a hard time feeling, let alone expressing), particularly resonated with me. Heen reminded the attendees that since we don’t get to hear our voices, see our faces or feel the energy others feel emanating from our persons as we present ourselves to the world, feedback can be very helpful if we can receive it well. In fact, the ability to receive feedback is crucial to effective leadership.

“People have info about you that’s invisible to you.” Shelia Heen. Tweet this now!

But feedback often triggers reactions that make the giver uncomfortable, ensuring needed feedback will be withheld in the future.

You won’t get feedback unless your team believes you can hear it. Tweet this now!

And it’s not just the negative stuff we have a hard time hearing; studies show that even comments that would be considered complimentary are hard for most of us to accept. That’s because most “people actively seek to verify their own perceptions of themselves, whether those are positive or negative.” So even a comment intended as a compliment can gets pushback if the receiver doesn’t agree with it.

The problem is we all want to be loved and accepted for who we THINK we are. Most of the time, we’re not intentionally choosing behaviors meant to elicit negative reactions. So when the reaction is other than what we expect, we get frustrated, defensive, and unable to hear.

I experienced this a few time in my previous life where feedback was vital part of the promotion process. Annual performance evaluations helped determine who stayed on active duty in the “up or out” military promotion system. Feedback sessions to establish performance goals and analyze progress were an informal, then formal part of the process.

Sometimes the feedback was hard to hear but it gave me a glimpse as to whether what I thought I was projecting was actually being perceived in the way I intended. I had to work on not being defensive and just listen to the lesson and then decide if and how to incorporate it into how I led. Every new assignment was a new chance to be a better leader with a team not influenced by my previous mistakes.

“People who are willing to look at themselves are just easier to work with and to live with.” ~ Shelia Heen. Tweet this now!

My experience receiving feedback in the Air Force has helped me learn to take a minute, understand what the feedback means and if and how to incorporate it in my performance. Heen introduced some language around the types of feedback that I wish I had during my time on active duty. She described the three types of feedback as Appreciation, Coaching and Evaluation.

Appreciation

We all want to be seen and heard and know that what we are saying and doing matters; expressing appreciation is a way to say “Thank You” and affirms to the listener that his contributions to the team are known and necessary. This is so important the Profit Pathway team sets aside time during what we call Affirmation Friday to express appreciation for the gifts and talents we each bring to the enterprise. It encourages each member of the team to really look for ways the others are contributing they may have missed initially.

Coaching

Helping others discover ways to grow and develop is what coaching is all about. Being focused on your continuous growth can make it easier to for you to receive feedback; the feedback is not necessarily about what you did wrong but what you can do better.

Or maybe it is about something that went wrong; coaching feedback can help you find the lessons in the mistake.

Evaluation

An evaluation is like an assessment. In a work environment, your performance is usually being evaluated against a standard or against others doing the same or similar work. My military evaluations contained high points from the previous year as well how my performance ranked among that of my peers. My evaluations helped me assess my standings, my chances of being promoted and earning more responsibility.

The person receiving feedback has the power to determine the effectiveness of the feedback. Having a growth mindset helps…so does knowing how to ask for the type of feedback you want and learning to recognize the type of feedback being given.

“Nothing affects the learning culture of an organization more than the skill with which its executive team receives feedback.” ~ Shelia Heen Tweet this now!

from Thanks for the Feedback: The Science and Art of Receiving Feedback Well is by Shelia Heen and Douglas Stone.

Something to think about:

  • How well do you receive feedback?
  • What type of feedback impacts you negatively?
  • What can you do to change how you receive feedback?

Renita Alexander, Leadership Unlocked