Serving Leader

All leaders are serving – either themselves or others.” ~ Global leadership guru and author Bill Hybels. Tweet

In his book, The 21 Indispensable Qualities of a Leader, John Maxwell used the late General Norman Schwarzkopf Jr. as an example of servant hood. As a retired military officer, I love that one of my favorite authors, leadership guru Maxwell recognized this stellar officer as a servant leader.

For those of you too young to remember, the General led coalition forces during DESERT STORM, and was affectionately referred to as Stormin’ Norman. But I admit…I found the choice surprising given that even as military members are SERVING their country, many don’t see them as servant leaders.

They see the military as a top-down, orders-driven and rank-focused hierarchy. The reality is much more complex.

The primary motivation to join an all-volunteer organization that doesn’t pay very well, that asks its members to leave friends and families and put themselves in harms way, an organization that sometimes requires its members to make the ultimate sacrifice…the motivation to join that organization is usually, not always, but primarily, the desire to serve. The desire is to serve something other than self…something bigger than self.

What those members who desire to serve and commit to serving learn as they grow into leadership roles is that serving is demonstrated in the care and development of those they are privileged to lead.Tweet

“Take care of the people and the people will take care of the mission” is the phrase I learned as a young officer…which made sense considering I wasn’t the one doing most of the work.Tweet

So I focused on doing what only I could do… identifying and sometimes fighting for the resources my airmen needed to do their jobs safely and efficiently.

Not only do servant leaders provide the resources needed to get the job done, they work on actively developing the members who will fill their leadership shoes, driving retention and compelling loyalty.

And yes, in the military, there is time for following orders without question. What ensures an order WILL be followed is the demonstration by leaders at all levels that they care about each individual entrusted to their care, about their families, about what’s going on in their lives outside of work… who ensure the members of their team have the resources needed and the development opportunities required to do the task they’re committed to complete.

People make sacrifices for those leaders.

Are you serving yourself or others?

Renita Alexander, Leadership Unlocked

Purpose

We all have a reason for being on this earth and unique ways to express our purpose. The passion or enthusiasm we feel for a particular cause is pointing us to our God given purpose. If we pay attention, our purpose is manifested in our hopes, dreams, and wishes and can impel our growth and forward motion.

“For we are God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.”  Ephesians 2:10 NIV

Inhale Passion, Exhale Fear…
Inhale Possibilities, Exhale Fear…
Inhale Purpose, Exhale Fear…
Just Breathe…

#JustBreathe

Ignite Purpose

Our dreams can ignite a passion for a cause that reveals our purpose. We all have a purpose…our reason for being here. When we don’t fulfill our purpose, things come undone or don’t get done.

Our purpose is sometimes revealed in an unexpected way when we experience something personally or something happens to someone close to us and we feel compelled to act. Candy Lightner founded Mothers Against Drunk Driving after a drunk driver who had a history of arrests for intoxication hit and killed her daughter.

misty4secondpositionOr sometimes we’re exposed to something for the very first time and we don’t understand how we’re going to live with out this in our lives. Think Misty Copeland who wasn’t introduced to ballet until the relatively late age of 13.

Every now and then our innate and obvious passions and talents are nurtured and developed from the beginning of our lives…we call those people prodigies. Pablo Picasso’s passion and talent for drawing were evident, encouraged and expanded from an early age by his art instructor father.

Unfortunately, not everyone gets that kind of early, sustained support, but that doesn’t mean we can’t act on our desires and use our talents to fulfill our purpose as soon as we know what it is. It doesn’t matter how or even when we get to our purpose. It only matters that when the discovery is made, we strive to live in and on purpose.

Our light is revealed as we strike our gift against the needs of the world…” ~ Mark Nepo

Inhale Dreams, Exhale Delusion…
Inhale Discovery, Exhale Discouragement…
Inhale Development, Exhale Abandonment…
Just Breathe…

#ReflectionsWithRenita

How is Your Leadership Impacting Your Team?

I once had a boss try to embarrass me in a meeting. I had been on the job about a month and was still trying to learn my way around.

I don’t really remember what she said, but I do remember hearing the roar of blood rushing to my face. I was stunned and momentarily immobilized. I managed to finish what I was doing (I think) but my emotions had been hijacked, rendering me unable to fully function. When I confronted her later, her response was basically, “Yeah, and I did it on purpose….”

Her action and response had a really negative impact on my desire to continue working for her.

Emotional Intelligence 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 opposite of resonance is dissonance; a dissonant leader throws people off balance and negatively impacts their performance.

A dissonant leader creates employees who don’t want to be there. According to Jim Clifton, CEO of Gallup, disengaged describes about 70% of American employees and employee disengagement is costing the U.S. an estimated $450-$550 billion annually.

The great thing about being in the military is that you get to experience leadership changes frequently. Either you or your boss will eventually move to another location. So the occasional dissonant leader may make your life miserable for a time … that you know will pass. I decided early in my career to try and learn from the good AND not-so-good leaders.

This particular dissonant leader reinforced for me the truth of a tenet I learned as a young officer…

Take care of the people and the people will take care of the mission.Tweet

I understood it to mean I was to provide what was needed to the people I was privileged to lead so they could do their jobs. Providing what they needed wasn’t just ensuring they had the resources they required, a safe physical environment and recognition for a job well done. It also meant creating a culture where people felt safe to make mistakes and being honest when the mistake was mine.

Taking care of the people meant being open and transparent when, for example, a unit I was leading was being outsourced.

It meant not asking my subordinate commanders to drop what they were doing to attend an emergency meeting…that was not an actual emergency.

A leader who understands how to take care of her people is going to attract and retain employees who want the organization to be successful and are actively engaged in creating that success.

Do you know how your leadership is impacting your team?

Renita Alexander, Leadership Unlocked

You Better Fix Yo’ Face!

I had an epiphany this week. It was during a conversation with a very successful woman business owner about a Huffington Post article on the second presidential debate.

Like the women in the article, we too have experienced disturbing behavior from men who try to use their physicality to silence us. Like most women, we were revulsed by Trump’s lurking, hovering, space invading attempts to intimidate Sec Hillary Rodham Clinton (HRC). And as many women expressed on social media, we are in awe of her ability to refrain from physically attacking him.

And that’s when I had my “Aha” moment. HRC’s mastery at fixing her face may be a contributing factor to the widely held belief that she is a liar.

Hear me out! I’m not saying it’s the main factor. Most of the charges of lying stem from garden variety sexism levied at women leaders on a daily basis. HRC has had the temerity to be ambitious. She not only has definite ideas about how to do good in the world, she has implemented some of those ideas. She was the trail-blazing first First Lady to have a formal position in her husband’s West Wing. People across the political spectrum have attacked her for everything from her decision to stay with her philandering husband to how she wears her hair.

Former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton testified before the House Select Committee on Benghazi, which was investigating the events surrounding the September 11, 2012, terrorist attack on the U.S. consulate in Benghazi, Libya, in which Ambassador Christopher Stevens and three others died.
Former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton testified before the House Select Committee on Benghazi, which was investigating the events surrounding the September 11, 2012, terrorist attack on the U.S. consulate in Benghazi, Libya, in which Ambassador Christopher Stevens and three others died.

And of course, there are the multiple investigations, often launched as a result of fallacious charges, book-ended between the 8-year, $70 million Whitewater investigation, led by disgraced former special prosecutor Kenneth Starr and the $8 million, multi-congressional hearings on Benghazi.

There has yet to be a discovery of anything indictable but the impression remains that Hillary has something to hide.

The perception persists despite political fact checking organizations like PolitiFact rating over 70 percent of HRC’s statements as true, mostly true or half true.

Transparency loving Millennials have been particularly hard on her, calling her inauthentic. But what they view as a lack of authenticity could be the restrained responses of a woman, who, understanding how people react to powerful women, is trying to play within what is allowed even as she attempts to break this highest glass ceiling.

HRC has attained such mastery that she was able to listen to Trump’s incoherent and uninformed ranting for something she could actually respond to without laughing long and loudly. Can you listen to Trump without rolling your eyes?

HRC declined to match her opponent’s negative energy and managed to maintain a measured tone, when responding to the moderators and to Trump. Would you have been able to stop yourself from screaming at Trump’s lies?

This emotionally intelligent mastery of self is something HRC has been doing for a while. During the height of the Monica Lewinsky scandal, HRC fixed her face for every public appearance and focused on the long term goals of a unique partnership rather than the short term satisfaction of calling her husband out in public.

Image from Full Frontal by Samantha Bee
Image from Full Frontal by Samantha Bee

Can anyone say, after the public humiliation of having the leader of the free world cheat on you, that you would have decided to stay in your marriage AND refrained from any “my side of the story” interviews?

Speaking of indiscretions of a sexual nature, many people suggested she should come out swinging after Trump was revealed to have bragged about sexually assaulting women.

But sensitive to the political baggage of her husband’s own infidelities, HRC has left the Trump takedown on Tape-gate to the more than capable hands of our current FLOTUS, Michelle Obama, who at a NH rally, unleashed righteous hellfire on he whom she will not name. Can you go high when others go low?

In every experience, every encounter, we get a choice on how to respond. It’s not always easy to do and it’s not always the most satisfying, but an effective leader has the self-control to respond instead of react in a crises or to negative stimuli or to a perceived slight. And isn’t the ability to be effective what we want in a leader?

Renita Alexander, Leadership Unlocked

Peace

Being centered…plunges us again and again, into that unseeable stream in which life is continually vital and refreshed.” ~ Mark Nepo

Everything I read during my morning devotion today encouraged me to get still. I was feeling agitated…nothing debilitating just an increased level of “did I get this done” and “what can I do to make a difference?”

I realized I haven’t been doing what I know to do to keep myself centered and receptive. I wasn’t entering my items “to do” in my phone planner app as soon as they occurred to me so I could let them go. I was watching too much news. I wasn’t taking the time to slow down and really get still. And I was feeling some kind of way that wasn’t reflective of how I want to feel.

Isn’t it true that when we most need the tools to quiet our minds, we convince ourselves we’re too busy to use them? 

It is only when we are in a place of peace, joy and love that we can accurately discern God’s voice amid the chaos, actually perceive our inner thoughts from the external noise and understand we don’t have be anxious about anything.

So I took the time to get still, breathe in unison with life and let the truth flow in. And already, I’m feeling more at peace…

“Be still and know that I am God…” Psalm 46:10

Inhale Calm, Exhale Chaos…
Inhale Stillness, Exhale Stress…
Inhale Peace, Exhale Chatter…
Just Breathe…

#JustBreathe

Stillborn

Most of us have not actually experienced what happens after our bodies cease to function. But some of us have experienced an emptiness that results from not giving into the passion we feel…not allowing our desire to make a difference, not giving voice to our dreams, not allowing our hears to break…not giving birth to what is inside us that will lead us to our purpose. And isn’t not giving birth to the seed inside you the same as death?

“Don’t die with your music still inside you. Listen to your intuitive inner voice and find what passion stirs your soul.” ~ Wayne Dyer

Inhale Birth, Exhale Death…
Inhale Being, Exhale Emptiness…
Inhale Beginning, Exhale Desolation…
Just Breathe…

#JustBreathe

Keep Dreaming

Our dreams are like babies. They need to be fed, nurtured, and protected in a safe environment to thrive. If they are not fed enough, or neglected too often, or exposed too early to a harsh world before they are sufficiently developed, our dreams die. And even though our bodies may continue to function, when our dreams die, we are less than alive.

What happens to a dream deferred?
Does it dry up
like a raisin in the sun?
Or fester like a sore—
And then run?
Does it stink like rotten meat?
Or crust and sugar over—
like a syrupy sweet?

Maybe it just sags
like a heavy load.

Or does it explode?

“Harlem” by Langston Hughes

Inhale Dreams, Exhale Stagnation,
Inhale Inception, Exhale Restriction,
Inhale Conception, Exhale Destruction…
Just Breathe…

#JustBreathe

Dream On

The dreams that you have, the desires placed on your heart, the emotions you experience in response to events are there for a reason. They are showing you bits of your destiny…what your world can look like if you step into the fullness of who you are…and how stepping into your purpose can impact your larger community, even the world.

“If your dream only includes you, it’s too small.” ~ Ava DuVernay, director of Selma

Inhale Dreams, Exhale Distractions…
Inhale Desires, Exhale Indifference…
Inhale Destiny, Exhale Complacency…
Just Breathe…

#JustBreathe

American Experiment: Relentless Racism

Before the 17th century, the concept of race did not exist in what would become America. According to Professor Audrey Smedley, the first time the term “White,” (rather than “Christian” or an ethnic name to indicate origin i.e., English, Irish, Scots, Portuguese, German, Spanish, Swede, etc.) “appeared in the public record was seen in a law passed in 1691 that prohibited the marriage of Europeans with Negroes, Indians, and mulattoes”.*

Race was created in America to separate poor whites and poor peoples of color. Outnumbered landowners sought to divide their labor force by encouraging and incentivizing poor whites to identify on the basis of color versus socio economic status. And it worked.

Slavery was not the result of race, but the other way around. And the uniquely, brutal American version of slavery didn’t really end but morphed into other forms of oppression, all undergirded by the racism created during slavery to control and economically exploit people of color.

“…the notion of racial difference…proved far more durable than the institution that gave birth to it.” ~ Michelle Alexander

Me and my soror Vicky at the NMAAHC.

The durability and relentless nature of racism was my key takeaway from two days of exploring the new National Museum of African American History and Culture. The pattern of gains by black people, followed by backlash from those who would oppress and control was on full display at the museum.

A Civil War fought over slavery and the all too brief Reconstruction period after emancipation was followed by the terror of terrorists groups like the Klan and the implementation of black codes and Jim Crow laws which sought to control and restrict every aspect of black life.

The legislative gains of the 50s and 60s were negated by the seeds of mass incarceration of people of color sown during the Regan era War on Drugs.

The election of Barack Obama led to the overturn of key Civil rights legislation to include the Supreme Court’s gutting of the Voting Rights Act because, according to Chief Justice John Roberts, it “had done its job, and it was time to move on”. The ruling in Shelby County v. Holder, which removed the requirement for states with histories of voting discrimination to approve their voting changes with the federal government, resulted in the almost immediate passage of restrictive, discriminatory voting laws by Republican state legislators under the guise of voter fraud.

Of course, the real voter fraud is being committed by those states with a history of discrimination. Another kind of voter fraud is being committed by those who would try to convince you that your vote doesn’t matter. The truth is your vote does matter…unless you don’t use it.Tweet

I’ve seen and heard a lot of cynicism expressed about the power of voting by Chicagoans recently. It’s surprising given the success of activist organizations like Black Lives Matter, Assata’s Daughters and Black Youth Project 100 in ousting Cook County State’s Attorney Anita Alvarez during the Democratic primary. But if those same voters don’t vote in the general election, her opponent, Kim Foxx, who won 58 percent of the primary vote, could lose the general election.

The forces of racism are relentless and determined to undermine every hard fought gain, negate every success, overturn every piece of legislation enacted to protect and empower those who have been exploited and abused.

The voices of equality and freedom must be vigilant and just as determined to use all the tools are our disposal, to include our vote.

In other words…stay woke, go vote!

Renita Alexander, Leadership Unlocked

*The History of the Idea of Race… And Why It Matters by Audrey Smedley