Returning To The Workshop

I just finished a workshop lecture and enjoyed returning to those wonderful days of talking and sharing with the people I worked with in all parts of the country. There wasn’t much give and take, but I understand why. The subjects of power, leadership, inner circles, and dialogue are not everyday conversations and are likely never discussed.

I am so taken by these issues that I do not stop learning more when encountering them in the news or conversations. So, being asked to give a brief lecture is my pleasure. How else will this knowledge be disseminated? It is not surprising to me that these subjects are mostly overlooked because it is part of what I have experienced in every corner of our nation. Hearing someone talk about power and leadership as “the problem to the answer” is rare in academia and business.

 Searching for answers amongst the general population is futile. Why?  Those in power rule, and too few leaders seek enlightenment as they are the problem. This is not what they easily accept. On the other hand, blaming their staff for communication difficulties in the workplace is commonplace.

Enlightened leaders are fearless in taking responsibility for the state of their workplace. If they are, in any way, a cause of issues between staff, they are open to knowing and correcting the problem, including themselves. They are the few leaders who are voluntarily open to viewing themselves as the cause, which they usually are. They are, after all, the creators of the environment that everyone works in. Staff issues are rarely difficult to resolve if dialogue can take place.


The Making Of A Person

They are not born ready-made for us.

They are made by what they are given and other stuff.

They are given life by those they are born to.

And how nurtured is in the hands of their parents, too.

So many things contribute to what this baby becomes.

So confusing as to what makes the child into a leader or into a bum.

Parents have power to do both good and bad.

Parents offer love or expectation to their girl or lad.

“Conditional” is what this is called and not the best way to go.

Manipulation to force certain behavior simply does not flow.

Better to give love just for the fact the child is being.

And allow the child their own way of being and seeing.

We are each our own person in a battle to be.

It is this struggle they must win whether he or she.

Life is this way from beginning to end.

To just simply be oneself and not to bend.

If loved for who we are it is likely we will come to be.

Not another, not my parents, only me.


Listening Is A Superpower

Possessing power does not appeal to me. What drives me is always being who I am. I never sought out anyone to tell me what to do. Even as a child, when I encountered people being treated badly or as pawns, I made my protests known with my voice and fists. 

Recently I called a friend from my childhood who still lives in Chicago. He has earned a Ph.D. in education and is recognized as an outstanding educator. We have been close since we were seven; today, he and I are closing in on 100 years!

During our conversation, I asked him to describe me as a kid. He remembered me as the leader of our group of street kids, something which I immediately denied. Still, he argued that I always listened to everyone and what they were saying and did not jump to conclusions or act selfishly. 

It is interesting how people that know us see us. This is because we do not see ourselves even if we believe we do. Still, I must have known then how important listening is, and over the years, I made it my strong suit. Clearly, active listening is at the root of ”genuine dialogue,” the process that flattens pyramids and distributes power to those at the center of the leader’s influence.

I have always spoken truth to power and will push back against the person who loves power for power’s sake while embracing the leader who empowers and shares their power.  

My worldview is the same as my tiny view. Power exists in its natural form as people exercise it. When the people’s form of power is used for the good of humanity, we are all blessed. Why is that so rare?


Rejecting Bad Leadership

Leadership came into being when our ancient ancestors first realized they needed to form groups for defense and survival.  It must have been a conflicting time for those who survived the care and protection of their mothers until they found themselves on their own. 

I believe that family units eventually became defense and survival groups. Leaders naturally emerged, whether it was the best hunter, the strongest, or the brightest. Leadership is a natural result of two or more humans living together.  

My long experience has taught me that “good leadership” is a rarity among people. There is no reason to believe this would have been much different in the lives of our ancestors.  Then, as today, leadership was a valued prize, one that a host of people would kill for.

Obviously, I believe leadership is an essential part of human existence. While good leadership profits the group and the individual, bad leadership can potentially destroy the individual and the very world we live in. Our history is filled with good and bad leaders, one dynasty after another over thousands of years, continuing to this day. Assuming that we can readily recognize the difference between good and bad leaders, the question remains: What can we do about it? Will we ever learn to reject bad leadership?  Maybe not. After all, what does the evidence say?

Leadership is rare—When has it not been like this? —I can only hope


Some Thoughts On Leadership

Authentic leadership does not rely on techniques or manipulation. A good leader is real. There are no performances or games playing. What you see and hear is one very authentic person, consistent with their core being, and therefore dependable in all they say and do.  Because of whom and what they are, those surrounding them feel secure in their roles.

Humans are feeling machines, and these emotions play havoc with our behavior. What is our behavior if angry, disappointed, confused, or threatened? Even for those who have learned to hide behind a façade of smiles and cooperation, whatever happens behind the face is felt and ultimately revealed. 

I believe and have taught that poor leaders are akin to the naked emperor, believing they are dressed in the finest garments, yet everyone sees the truth. Ultimately, bad leaders are always paid back in kind, whether it be in subtle and not so subtle ways. When it happens, the cost is dear, although ironically, failures are often blamed on those closest to the leader.

Conversely, the effective leader is direct and rarely experiences negativity in those close to them. When they do, the good leader is quick to confront the troubled people in their organization and are direct and honest in culling them out or helping them grow into a contributing member. I remember seeing this as a “grow or go” moment. I had them, and I dealt with them. 

So, to me, leading was fun, and Lenette and I formed wonderful relationships with the people we worked with. Now, as we age, we are enveloped by grand memories and those kids and staff whom we value as family. 

Leaders and leaders—Rare are the great ones, too few—why? A great?


Am I me?

I lead, but am I a leader?

I read, but am I a reader?

I write, but am I a writer?

I fight, but am I a fighter? 

We think of ourselves as this or that.

That we know ourselves like we know our hat.

That what we see in the mirror is who we are.

But the mirror is wrong, it tells a lie by far. 

Like looking at an apple and thinking it’s a pie.

The mirror is just a reflection of a little white lie.

It is others that know us best.

On this truth you can surely rest.

We can only guess as to who and what we are.

Find a trusted friend, they know you better by far

They know you as they see you.

And if they trust you, they will share what is true.

Pay attention to what your good friend has to say.

If you are open and willing to hear it will make your day.

You will learn something important about you.

And you can bet it is likely true.


A Bit Of Poetry

Many years back, I loved adventure poetry enough to put many to memory. Not just for me, but often to quote them to kids and staff. I would also do my best to be the language of the poem. A good example is my telling of Gunga Din. I love that story of a water carrier who died doing his job bringing water and ammunition to the British troops fighting a battle in India. He was truly a hero, and I am sure the story is real, as written by Rudyard Kipling. 

Remember “The Shooting of Dan McGrew”? Another classic I love to quote with the feelings of the bar and the cold outside. There are so many of these, and most gave me a way of looking at the world.  It may be why I, as a kid and teenager, thought I would become a merchant mariner. This would be my way of seeing the world. Of course, serendipity became a huge fact in my life. I became what events dictated.  Here, I try my hand at some original poetry. I hope you like it.


As I sit at my computer thinking of rhymes,

I’m about to write some poetry, I feel it’s time.

I know that I want to say something about aging, but I don’t know yet. 

I’m confident I’ll find what I need to say; on this, you can bet.

I love to use words that say a lot.

Which allows me to write one-page essays and waste words, not.

So, age is my subject, now what do I say?

I have written and said in a talk that “old age sucks.” I believe it to this day.

What good is there as I wilt away and watch friends die?

And my turn is coming, yet I fear not or ask why.

Life has been a wonderful trip for Lenette and I.

Our cups run over with memories and stuff. 

So many wonderful friends, and there are never enough. 

When they visit, what a blessing they bring. 

Stories and cookies, memories and things.

Our past has been so full, sometimes planned and sometimes not.

But we never looked back; our journey never stopped.

We pushed the limits in most everything we did.

Not knowing what our efforts and the future hid.

But that’s life, and it is not meant to be wasted.

Our doings and goings in our book of life, maybe pasted?


Time and events do their thing, and I am the ball they hit.

Taken back and forth, I went wherever I might fit.

If I thought about where events and people are taking me.

I did not resist events and let the winds of life push me out to sea.

It was there and with strangers that I began to discover who I was.

I learned at an early age I do not fear people or things. 

I faced and learned the power of nature and all that it brings.

I try to do my best in whatever I do and see/hear life as a song that sings.


We Are The Key, The Lock, And The Door

I began my study of power and leadership in 1975. To this day, I’m intrigued by this subject. When a leader “gets it,” their lives and the lives of the people they live and work with change. The difference between the blind leader and the knowing leader are worlds apart in nearly everything they think and do. This is true in their relationships with those they live and work with. Also, I’m also willing to bet it’s the same with everyone they meet.

Until I began to work with leaders, staff training was an essential part of the programs in all my organizations due to our unusual philosophy that emphasized personal responsibility. I did the best I could as an educator and leader, but admittedly, I was unaware of my power to influence. It was when I began to work with other leaders that I began to understand this.

I have repeated this theme over the years of writing and teaching, and I know I will continue to do this because of its importance. Teaching “technique” is not an answer to being a better leader, and workshops teaching leadership must be a deep “inner soul” process that demands emotional as well as intellectual change. I know people are capable of growth and change until they die. There is no easy way for those in power to manipulate growth on the part of those we live and work with. The environment we create is the key, the lock, and the door.

I will be leader—But I want this for you too—Are we up to this?


Fixing Aging

What is there to fix about aging? Maybe drugs or surgery can fix pain, but not our loss of certain abilities, such as our memory, or a slew of the unavoidable maladies aging brings. When people write or speak of aging as a “golden time,” one immediately knows they are not part of this population. Even if a keen observer, even professionals who study old age in medicine, psychology, and other fields can only speculate and opinionate on what it’s like to be over seventy years old.

I have repeatedly written that aging is not for the weak or faint of heart. Most who are strong and active in their middle age are inclined, as we were, to ignore that they are on the brink of knowing this personally. I biked, skied, hiked, and generally thought those days would simply continue. Who is old? Not me!

So, how long will we live? I never gave that any thought; we just lived each day as if the days following continued in the same fashion. Looking back, would thinking about our again process have been the better path? Frankly, I am satisfied with how we lived our lives and our many adventures and challenges. 

Even now, being seriously old, each day is lived as fully as we are able. Admittedly, our days are a repeat of the day before, other than the wonderful people who come to visit us. What a blessing they are to us! They give all of us an opportunity to relive events that meant so much, whether they be challenges, successes, or failures. Life, as we often said throughout all of our programs, is “a learning experience.”


My Memories

We each have our own memories. We may be like others in many respects if from the same family, neighborhood, or environment. Yet, we are all unique individuals who experience events from our own perspectives. That is what makes up our memories.

I have lived and continue to live an interesting and challenging life. That is why I share many of my experiences with each of you.  And, if I repeat my stories, I do so because I do not have a perfect recollection of the essays I have written. This, besides the fact that I feel some are worth retelling. In any case, I am sure this will happen again and again. And I believe I know why. My memories are my very existence, and I now believe that, as we age, memories—the good ones, are vital to our existence.

I am only me—Not you nor another one—I am simply me


Community And Care

Based on daily observations, there is no doubt that “community” becomes more essential the older we get. People going through the same or similar experiences need others even more. That is why I make the case that aging people are better off living with other aging people than their own families.

Family may be loving but rarely are any in the family pure caregivers.  Professional caregivers are trained and, here, as well as in some areas, are required to undergo continuing education. Family history and memories do not exist, so there are no hidden agendas or strings of the past that pull and influence behavior.

Living with people our approximate age makes for interesting dialogue. Many are well-educated, and some have been leaders, professionals, and entrepreneurs. The majority are women living alone; only about a fifth of the residents are couples. And with the wonderful help of management, the “community” has formed and is felt and recognized by the majority. Community, as I think it ought to be, is not as common as many believe. It needs to be a group of people of similar ages and needs. Our community meets our needs in so many important ways.