Author Archives: Maren

Ruth Bader Ginsburg

Ruth Bader GinsburgTwenty-seven years ago this week, Ruth Bader Ginsburg was sworn in as the 107th U.S. Supreme Court Justice. Her candidacy came on the heels of a stellar legal career as an academic proceduralist, a proven litigator and advocate for gender equality, and a thoughtful federal appellate judge.

Joan Ruth Bader was born on March 15, 1933 in Brooklyn Heights to hard-working immigrant parents, Nathan and Celia. Older sister Marilyn dubbed her “Kiki” for being such a kicky baby, and the nickname stuck. Kiki never got the chance to know her only sibling. Marilyn died of spinal meningitis in June 1934.

Given an abundance of Joans in Brooklyn Public School 238, Kiki started using her middle name, Ruth, to avoid confusion. She earned straight As at PS238 while also attending Hebrew school, taking piano lessons, and feeding a voracious literary appetite. At James Madison High School, Ruth was an honor student, played cello in the school orchestra, and twirled baton.

Ruth entered Cornell University in Fall 1950 on a full scholarship. She was a dedicated student who aspired to achieve good grades and become successful upon graduation. Having excelled in a constitutional law class, her professor encouraged her to pursue law school and legal activism as a means of making the world better.

After graduation, Ruth married her college sweetheart, Marty Ginsburg. The couple spent two years in Oklahoma while Marty dispatched his military service obligation before both went to the Harvard Law School. As one of 8 women in a class of 552, Ruth stood out in the male-dominated culture and committed herself to a high standard of preparation and excellence.

After Marty’s graduation, the couple moved to New York City where he established a practice as a tax attorney. Ruth transferred to Columbia University as one of 12 women in a class of 341. She earned a place on the Columbia Law Review and tied for first in class upon graduation.

Post-graduation, Ruth secured a position as a law clerk for Judge Edmund L. Palmieri. While there, she accepted an assignment to research Swedish jurisprudence as part of a larger project on international procedures. Mentor Hans Smit bolstered her confidence and helped her establish a name for herself.

In September 1963, Ruth took on a teaching position at Rutgers University in civil procedure and comparative law. She also taught courses at New York University and volunteered her time at the New Jersey branch of the ACLU. The latter fueled her desire to participate actively in the civil rights movement and accorded her the opportunity to gain litigation experience. Rutgers made her a full tenured professor in 1969.

At the dawn of a new decade, Ruth was invited to teach a symposium on Women and the Law at Yale University. She researched the subject thoroughly and was disturbed by the law’s pervasive gender discrimination. It reflected the “separate spheres” mentality that assigned the roles of breadwinning and decision making to males and homemaking and child rearing to females. This construct was clearly out of step with increased participation of women in the workforce and a changing social consciousness toward the sexes. She decided to make sex-based discrimination her research specialty.

As the soon-to-be foremost litigator for gender equality, Ruth devised a strategy for presenting cases that would move the character of the prevailing courts. She used individual victories to set up favorable precedents. She was careful not to leap too far ahead of the political process and to align her cases with the weight of public opinion. Examples of cases that bear her fingerprints:

  • Reed v. Reed overturned an Idaho statute that privileged fathers as the executors of their children’s estates.
  • Frontiero v. Richardson determined that housing and medical benefits apportioned by the United States military could not be denied to the male dependent of a female officer.
  • Struck v. Secretary of Defense challenged the military’s right to discharge a member of the armed services due to pregnancy.

During the 1970s, Ruth co-authored a book entitled Sex-Based Discrimination: Texts, Cases, and Materials and published 25 legal articles. She crafted 24 briefs in Supreme Court cases (9 for litigants and 15 as a friend of the court) and presented 6 oral arguments.

Upon the recommendation of President Jimmy Carter, Ruth Bader Ginsburg was sworn in as a Judge of DC Circuit Court of Appeals in 1980. Deemed a “paragon of judicial restraint,” she was a moderating influence on a fractious court and garnered respect for her intellectual rigor, caution, and collegiality.

With the retirement of Associate Justice Byron White in 1993, President Bill Clinton nominated Ruth Bader Ginsburg to serve as the 107th Justice of the U.S. Supreme Court. The U.S. Senate endorsed her candidacy in a 96-3 vote, and she was sworn in as an Associate Justice on August 10, 1993.

In recent years, Justice Ginsburg has been cast in the role of the chief dissenter. Her opinions frequently land in the minority on civil rights, immigration, wage equality, women’s reproductive rights, faith-based programs, campaign finances, gun control, and the death penalty. Yet she soldiers on and lets her meticulously crafted dissents spur legislative action or appeal “to the intelligence of a future day.”


  • Jane Sherron DeHart, Ruth Bader Ginsberg: A Life, New York: Vintage Books, ©2018
  • Ruth Bader Ginsburg, My Own Words, New York: Simon & Shuster, ©2016
  • Jeffrey Rosen, Conversations with RBG: Ruth Bader Ginsburg on Life, Love, Liberty, and Law, New York: Henry Hilt and Company, ©2019

Meal Planning During the Pandemic

It has been nearly 5 months since our household went into quarantine as a function of the COVID-19 pandemic. We’ve left the house for walks around the neighborhood, grocery shopping, prescription refills, and medical appointments. Otherwise, we’re doing our best to remain socially distanced from our fellow humans to the extent possible.

I’ll freely admit that I’ve been spoiled during the eleven-and-a-half years that we’ve lived in Beaverton food-wise. I never had to engage in meal planning because we live a very short walk from a really good grocery store. Pre-pandemic, I made a habit of going up there every other day or so, often making food choices in the spur of the moment. We were also blessed with weekly trips to the Beaverton Farmer’s Market for fresh produce and the joy of mingling with our fellow residents in the various stalls. And I never worried about things being out of stock. Worst case, I’d just have to visit a second grocer.

grocery shoppingThere were quite a few shortages during the first month of the pandemic, and yours truly had to figure out how to meal plan and cook to keep our fresh fruits and vegetables from going bad. With a bit of practice, I’ve got a system down that limits grocery shopping to one big trip every other week plus a weekly outdoor drop-in to our Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) pick-up. There are still shortages, but I’m really impressed by how well our grocers have stepped up to the plate and worked toward keeping their environments safe.

Here are a few short-cuts that we’ve developed to simplify meal planning and procurement:

FIRST: We’ve standardized on two of the three major meals per day. Breakfast consists of cereal (or oatmeal), protein shakes, and fresh fruit. We always make a big salad for dinner with lots of colorful vegetables, beans, nuts, and blueberries. I keep fruit, snack bars, and hummus and crackers on hand for late afternoon snacks.

SECOND: We eat our big meal of the day between 1 and 2 in the afternoon. That’s where I add variety to the line-up and make decent-sized quantities to allow for left-overs. (I don’t want to spend a lot of time cooking every day!) Each 2-week period generally contains a big vegetable stew (or curry) with rice, a tortilla dish (e.g., enchiladas, tacos, or casserole), a chili or bean stew, a grain-based dish (e.g., risotto, polenta), and stir-fried greens with either marinated tofu or tempeh. Having spent nearly 5 years cooking my way through 10 cookbooks, I have a lot of great recipes from which to choose.

THIRD: I created a standardized shopping list for the stuff we eat all the time and then customize it for the variable luncheon fare. It’s set up according to the layout of the store so that I can make efficient use of my time while there. When I get home, we spend a chunk of time washing and prepping the fresh produce for storage in airtight containers. That helps keep things fresh for as long as possible. I also cook with the least hardy materials in the first few days after the big shopping trip so they won’t go soft or bad on me. Grocery day has become a time-consuming affair, but we’re set-up nicely for the ensuring two weeks thereafter.

FOURTH: I’ve stocked up on nonperishable basics – e.g., protein powder, beans, grains, oil, vinegar, cereal, crackers, canned goods (which we use sparingly), condiments, dried fruit, nuts, spices, coffee, tea, V-8 juice (my husband’s favorite), and dog food. I’ve also loaded up the freezer with leftover stews, vegetables, and fruits. I’m prepared in the event we see some shortages and/or our household has to batten down the hatches due to illness. We’ll eat it all eventually, but it provides a measure of comfort to have a slightly elevated food inventory.

FIFTH: I keep track of “Best By” dates for our food inventory and make sure we use the stuff closest to expiration first. For the most part, we’ve got plenty of time to deal with it all. However, I’m sensitized to the issue having cleaned out my parents stores and tossed a lot of canned goods that were years past their useful lives.

We’ve been a predominantly home-cooked-meals household for several years now. As such, our adjustment to the quarantine food-wise has been quite easy. I will confess, however, that I miss the occasional nights out to local restaurants and look forward to the time when we can frequent them again.

A Code Blue for Healthcare

According to the Center for Disease Control, chronic disease is the leading driver of the nation’s $3.5 trillion annual healthcare costs. Such conditions include heart disease, cancer, chronic lung disease, stroke, Alzheimer’s disease, diabetes, chronic kidney disease, and others. Six in 10 adults have a chronic disease; four in 10 have two or more. Risk factors include tobacco use (and exposure to secondhand smoke), poor nutrition, a sedentary lifestyle, and alcohol or drug abuse.

hospital roomToday’s healthcare system largely treats these conditions with procedures and prescriptions. Unfortunately, it’s not really working. As a society, we keep getting sicker and sicker while we continue expanding our waistlines. Today, two-thirds of Americans are either overweight or obese. Excess body fat is another risk factor for chronic disease.

A new documentary sounds the alarm for our “misguided healthcare system” and “antiquated medical education model.” It’s entitled Code Blue: What Your Doctor Doesn’t Know Will SHOCK You.

The film’s producer and principal narrator has a vested interest in overhauling our medical care model. Dr. Satay Stancic was a third year resident when she was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis. It’s a disease for which there is no cure; doctors simply hope to slow its progression. With a prognosis of life in a wheelchair within 20 years, Dr. Stancic started a nightly regimen of injections along with up to 12 prescription drugs. She felt lousy and had flu-like symptoms. She decided to pursue lifestyle changes to quell the disease. She adopted a whole food, plant-based diet in 2003 and started exercising. She was able to get off her medications entirely by 2010. In a follow-up visit 21 years into the disease process, she remained asymptomatic, and her MRIs showed no material progression of the disease.

An avalanche of scientific evidence makes the connection between lifestyle choices and disease. In the 1950s, Dr. T. Colin Campbell’s China Study explored the dietary habits of 6,500 Chinese citizens across 130 villages. They consumed 1/10th the animal protein of their U.S. counterparts, and heart disease was almost non-existent. In the 1960s, North Karelia Finland had the highest incidence of heart disease in the world. They changed their dietary patterns. From 1972 to 2012, they saw an 82% reduction in coronary death and a 10-year extension to their lives. Dr. Michael Greger, MD has dedicated an entire website to the presentation of scientific data on nutrition. It overwhelming extols the virtues of a whole food, plant-based diet supplemented with exercise and avoidance of tobacco, alcohol, and drugs.

And yet, we aren’t listening. Every decade since the 1950s, we’re been eating more fat, more sugar, more meat, and more calories. Most Americans get twice the protein that they really need. Moreover, 65% of our food is processed, robbing us of vital nutrients to sustain healthy bodies. In fact, the World Health Organization declared processed meats a carcinogen in 2015!

open heart surgeryUnfortunately, the institutions that could take a stand for our health haven’t taken up that mantle. The USDA promotes the health and well-being of American agriculture – that is, the business side of the equation. So, they are hardly anxious to point the finger at the deleterious impact of our current food production. Big Pharma makes gazillions of dollars selling prescription drugs and channels its profits into the kind of medical research and practice that perpetuates the status quo. While cardiovascular disease has been the #1 killer for years, open heart surgery remains one of the most profitable procedures in modern hospitals. That’s a strong financial disincentive to effect a cure! Medical schools continue to train physicians in the identification of disease and the procedures and prescription drugs used to treat them. The filmmakers tell us that:

  • Only 1 in 4 medical schools has a dedicated nutrition course.
  • 73% of medical schools fail to meet the minimum recommended education in nutrition – 25 hours over 4 years.
  • 72% of first year medical students think nutrition is important; by graduation, that figure drops to 46%. It’s as if medical school washes away common sense!

Fortunately, physicians like Dr. Stancic are endeavoring to turn the tide. They’re all about prevention before chronic disease has the chance to take root. Their mission: To change medical culture for doctors, patients, and academia. A few medical schools are also starting to get with the program. The University of South Carolina teaches Lifestyle Medicine across all 4 years. Rutgers has a Lifestyle Medicine Interest Group. Stanford offers a non-credit course. And a medical practice in the Lone Star State – Houston Cardiac Associates – provides a course on “culinary medicine”!

I’m on board with the practice of lifestyle medicine as mediated through my naturopath and the gaggle of books that I’ve been reading. We exercise, and our diet is predominantly whole food, plant based. But it has not been a cake walk to sustain it. I spend a lot of time cooking , and I’ve had to teach myself how to create savory meals without meat, poultry, or fish. But the proof is in the proverbial pudding: we’re in great shape with stellar blood work and no disabling conditions. So, we’ll stick with it!

What I Want from Elected Leaders

I started this series on leadership with an eye toward to upcoming election cycle. Admittedly, most of the commentary provides guidance on how leaders best serve their organizations and team members. But let me get back to my original motivation and speak directly to expectations of our elected officials.

elected leaderBe an honest, forthright candidate. Provide solid evidence on the campaign trail about who you are, what you believe in, and what you plan to do in office. Don’t serve up empty platitudes and euphemisms. Don’t promise the stars and the moon unless you can demonstrate how you’ll pay for them and how it will affect the economy. Be open about who funds your campaign and how that will influence your decision-making.

If elected, act in integrity. What was promised during the campaign should find expression while in office. Speak the truth. Let everyone know that your word is your bond. Show your constituents that you care more about their interests and the good of the nation than you do about getting re-elected. Live into your oath to preserve, protect, and defend the Constitution of the United States. Let each branch of government attend to the tasks for which it has a clear mandate. Work effectively and cohesively with State and local governments. Let our system of checks and balances serve the American people as they were intended. Be transparent in all your affairs. Obey the law and make sure your associates do the same.

Leverage subject matter experts to educate the public and make important decisions. Scientists render crucial commentary on environmental considerations and changing weather patterns. Epidemiologists and public health professionals can tell us how to combat the current pandemic and protect ourselves from future threats. Economists can weigh in on the financial impact of policy initiatives. Diplomats have spent their lifetimes understanding complex geopolitical relationships. Career military officers have the training and experience necessary to assess the efficacy of military presence on foreign soil or in armed conflict. Surround yourself with the best and brightest. Listen attentively to their commentary and recommendations. Do enough of your own homework to engage them effectively. And when you’ve reached a decision, tell us why we’re pursuing a particular course of action and what we need to do to support it.

Keep a watchful eye on impending threats that could affect our life, liberty, and pursuit of happiness, and take action accordingly. Nuclear arsenals. Global warming. Pollution. Pandemics. Income inequality. Racial strife. Teetering economies. To name a few. Much of the work that will keep us safe won’t make headlines or garner acclaim. Do it anyway. Some of it will put a crimp on our lifestyles and make us grumpy. Take a stand for what’s in our best long-term interests anyway. Bring us on board with your reasoning so that we can all leave the country and the planet in good shape for the generations to come.

Be fiscally responsible. Assess taxes sensibly and fairly. Make sure we’re spending money on the right things in the right amounts. Hire good people and hold their feet to the fire on assigned deliverables. Trim the fat out of the government payroll. Curtail the national debt by balancing the budget and working toward generating a surplus to pay it down. Be an example of fiscal restraint and call upon your colleagues to join you.

Take seriously the mandate to serve all of the people, not just the folks who support your political agenda. According to Gallup polling data, registered Democrats and Republicans each lay claim to roughly 30% of registered voters with Independents, other party affiliations, and “none of the above” accounting for the remaining 40%. It makes no sense to pursue an aggressive agenda that delights 30% of voters, aggravates 30% of others, and leaves a burgeoning group of folks in the middle who find fault with both extremes. It makes no sense for one party to hold power and enact legislation that the other party rips apart 4 or 8 years later. And it does not make sense for uncompromising deadlock between House of Representatives and Senate, or Congress and the President. Do what all the rest of us out in the real world have to do. Compromise. Carve out some livable space in the middle that will persist across administrations.

Be a peacemaker. Stretch your hand across the political aisle to build relationships. Listen deeply to folks whose views are very different from your own. Model the ability to disagree without being disagreeable. Find the shared humanity on which we can build a strong, unified nation.

The Inner Path of Leadership

This week’s post on leadership features the work of Joseph Jaworski and his international best-selling book Synchronicity: The Inner Path of Leadership. Mr. Jaworski is an attorney, corporate strategist, and founder of the American Leadership Forum, The Global Leadership Initiative, and Generon International, an international consulting firm specializing in organizational renewal.

Jaworski sets the context for his commentary by noting that individuals want to be in contribution to their communities and fulfill their life’s purpose. Fear and a relentless drive for more and more material goods often get in the way of these goals. Great leaders can remove these stumbling blocks by helping people catch a new vision of the world in which we are all a part and establish the means through which every individual engages with it. In this altered world vision, relationships matter, not things, and all people in all places are connected. This concept hearkens back to Bell’s Theorem, which goes something like this:

two particlesImagine two paired particles in a two-particle system. If you take them apart any distance and you change the spin on one of the particles, the other will change its spin simultaneously. The experimentally proven phenomenon is the result of the oneness of apparently separate objects.

When extending Bell’s Theorem to humanity, individuals are inextricably part of a larger whole that evolves constantly. As individuals, we are tasked to be open and learn so that we can sense and actualize emerging new realities. As leaders, we must be attuned to human possibilities such that we can provide inspiration, guidance, and stewardship toward their realization. Jaworski defines the deepest territory of leadership as “listening to what is wanting to emerge in the world, and then having the courage to do what is required.”

Far from being a traditional command-and-control presence, Jaworski’s leaders leverage their wisdom and power to serve others. In their work with groups, they are challenged to find ways to dissolve the perception of separateness and help individuals experience one another on an entirely new level. It demands an exceptional talent for listening, an ability to tease out the common threads and shared goals, and the capacity to bring forth confidence to act. This model recognizes that there is extraordinary power in a group committed to a common vision. When groups achieve the shift to wholeness, the membership realizes a profound impact on their insights and achievements. It also increases the likelihood of synchronicity – what C.G. Jung describes as “a meaningful coincidence of two or more events, where something other than the probability of chance is involved.”

“Wholeness” does not entail a dissolution of individuality. Though they make act as one unit, each member of a group retains his or her individual awareness and experience. Likewise, collective action does not require complete agreement. Rather, it encourages people to contribute and participate in a pool of shared meaning that leads to aligned action. For example, individuals may take part in coordinated action yet have different rationales for achieving a shared outcome.

Jaworski’s core message: Destiny stands in need of all of us individually and collectively. We can create the world in which we live. No one’s efforts are too small to make a difference. We must open our eyes and see the possibilities!

A final story punctuates his point:

“Tell me the weight of a snowflake,” a coal mouse asked a wild dove.

“Nothing more than nothing,” was the answer.

bird on snowy twig“In that case, I must tell you a marvelous story,” the coal-mouse said. “I sat on the branch of a fir, close to its trunk, when it began to snow – not heavily, not in a ragging blizzard – no, just like in a dream, without a wound and without any violence. Since I did not have anything better to do, I counted the snowflakes settling on the twigs and needles of my branch. Their number was exactly 3,741,952. When the 3,741,953rd dropped onto the branch – nothing more than nothing, as you say – the branch broke off.”

Having said that, the coal-mouse flew away.

The dove, since Noah’s time an authority on the matter, thought about the story for a while, and finally said to herself, “Perhaps there is only one person’s voice lacking for peace to come to the world.”

A U.S. Marine’s Lessons on Leadership

james mattisIn my third post on leadership, I’ll share insights from Former Secretary of Defense and Retired General James Mattis’ book Call Sign Chaos: Learning to Lead. In addition to his civilian posts, General Mattis held command positions in three Middle Eastern wars. He led the Marine Corps Combat Development Command, a specialized unit that ensures the combat-readiness of the Corps. And, he was a Supreme Allied Commander for the US Joint Forces Command. In short, he knows how to lead.

My Dad was a proud Marine. From the Corps, he gained a profound sense of duty, his commitment to always being prepared for what was expected of him, and a dedication to mastering his profession. As a new recruit, he learned that “you can be a quitter, or you can be a Marine.” Dad was no quitter. He described his leaders as “tough son-of-a-guns” – as tough (or tougher) than the men in their charge. (Yep, it was all male in those days.) He admired them through and through, never hesitating to follow them into battle.

General Ulysses S. Grant characterized leadership in three words: humility, toughness, and single-mindedness. General Mattis adds three more:

  • Competence – brilliant in the basics and committed to continuous improvement (no one is excused from studying!)
  • Caring – knowing the men and women in your command, being respectful, providing direct and forthright feedback, and showing no favoritism
  • Conviction – being clear on what you want and what you will and won’t stand for (albeit with flexibility to change your position should conditions warrant)

While quite a bit of the book addresses the military, a large number of his precepts find resonance in any organizational setting:

  • For any operation, establish and communicate an intent that is consistent with the mission of the unit. Make sure that it is achievable, clearly understood, and capable of delivering what the unit is tasked with accomplishing.
  • Build a cohesive team with a centralized vision and decentralized planning and execution. Have faith in your subordinates once you’ve trained them. Delegate aggressively to the lowest capable level, matching personalities to the tasks at hand. Measure your effectiveness as a leader by how well your unit can function without you.
  • Choose the toughest threat against which to train. Practice, practice, practice. Make your moves second nature. Be like jazz musicians who are so familiar with their band mates that they know how to improvise together. Ask yourself daily: What have I overlooked? Where are the choke points in my plans?
  • Operations move at the speed of trust. Provide latitude for action without orders so long as it’s within the overarching plan. Provide coaching and feedback. Reward initiative; tolerate mistakes. Encourage; never berate.
  • Work with what you have; don’t whine about what you don’t have. Don’t get bogged down. If something isn’t working, shift gears. Don’t lose momentum.
  • Keep your superiors informed about your ground-level insights. Don’t assume that they see what you see. Articulate options and consequences, even when unpopular.
  • Spend time with the troops to find out what they’re thinking and feeling.

General Mattis learned from others; he was always a voracious reader of military history. As he says: “By traveling into the past, I enhance my grasp on the present.” So, he offers these words of wisdom from General George G. Marshall:

“The leader must learn to cut to the heart of a situation, recognize its decisive elements, and base his course of action on them. The ability to do this… is a process of years. He must realize that training in solving problems of all types… are indispensable requisites for the successful practice of the art of war… It is essential that all leaders… familiarize themselves with the art of clear, logical thinking.”

Primal Leadership

I’ve featured Daniel Goleman’s writings in two prior posts – one on meditation and another on emotional intelligence (EQ). In partnership with Richard Boyatzis and Annie McKee, he applied his teaching on EQ to the subject of leadership.

teamwork The central thesis of Primal Leadership is that great leadership works through the emotions. Whatever they set out to do, leaders mobilize followers by driving emotions in the right direction. If they engender confidence, enthusiasm, and an esprit de corps, performance soars. Optimism and positive regard enhance creativity, decision-making, and cooperation. People work best when they feel good. By contrast, if leaders instill fear, anxiety, and rancor, the entire group will be thrown off stride.

To achieve improved business performance, leaders need to take their self-development seriously. That effort requires connecting to what really matters to them while working on key markers of emotional intelligence: self-awareness, self-management, social competence, social awareness, and relationship management.

Research from those who have taken up this mantle tells us:

  • Goals should build on one’s strengths, not one’s weaknesses.
  • Goals must be a person’s own, not goals that someone else has imposed.
  • Plans should flexibly allow people to prepare for the future in different ways; a single “planning” method imposed by an organization will often prove counterproductive.
  • Plans must be feasible, with manageable steps. Plans that don’t fit smoothly into a person’s life will likely be dropped within a few weeks or months.
  • Plans that don’t suit a person’s learning style will prove demotivating and quickly lose his attention.

The authors claim that “emotional intelligence and resonance in a workplace may draw on the ancient human organizing principle of the primal band – those groups of fifty to one hundred people who roamed the land with a common bond and whose survival depended on close understanding and cooperation.” They find meaning in connection and attunement with one another. They share a collective identity, a sense of “fit” within their group, and a sense of well-being in community.

Rules of engagement for effective leadership:

  • Discover the Emotional Reality: Know and respect the group’s values and the organization’s integrity. If something fundamental needs to change, start at the top with a bottom-up strategy. Core beliefs, mindsets, and culture cannot be imposed forcibly; people need to drive change organically. Think about how you’ll bring everyone into the conversation. Discuss what is and is not working; imagine a world in which a high percentage of activity works.
  • Visualize the Ideal: Formulate a vision that will resonate with others on a deep and personal level. Avoid abstractions; communicate so that people can see, feel, and touch the values and mission of the revitalized organization. Find a way to connect high-level goals with each individual’s dreams, beliefs, and values. Build a culture that supports a healthy bottom-line as well as a healthy tribe.
  • Sustain Emotional Intelligence: With each interaction and decision, demonstrate alignment between personal values and those of the greater whole. Lead through fidelity to the shared mission, open communication, effective coaching, and respect for the individual. Call on everyone to act in integrity. Attend to organizational realignment, job definition, support infrastructure, and performance expectations to match the vision.

Leadership development needs to be a strategic priority of the enterprise. It does not happen naturally by promoting individuals into supervisory roles. Leaders need dedicated time to work on themselves while acquiring the skills to excel in relationship with others. They need a safe place for learning in which they can have experiences that are both relevant and challenging. They need strong mentors and coaches with whom they can have meaningful dialog and secure expert advice. And they need the freedom to use what they’ve learned to pursue new opportunities and solve real problems in their organizations. As the authors tell us:

“For most leaders, and even most managers, it is not more clarity about the strategy that will make the difference. It is not yet another five-year plan, and it is not another mundane leadership program. What makes a difference is finding passion for the work, for the strategy, and for the vision – and engaging hearts and minds in the search for a meaningful future. One more intellectual planning exercise is not going to get people engaged, and it certainly won’t change a culture.”


As the country ramps into high gear for the coming election cycle, I thought it would be worthwhile to revisit books on leadership that I’ve read over the years. First up is a book by Warren Bennis and Burt Nanus entitled Leaders: The Strategies for Taking Charge.

abraham lincolnRight up front, the authors assert that leadership is all about character. Great leaders are persons of integrity with a healthy self-regard, a compelling vision, a penchant for cultivating human possibility, and laser-like focus on desired outcomes. They manifest 5 key skills:

  • An ability to accept people as they are, not as they’d like them to be
  • A capacity to approach issues and relationships in the present, informed by history but not rooted in it
  • A practice of treating close associates with the same courtesy as they offer to strangers
  • An ability to trust others, even when it means taking risks
  • An ability to do without constant approval and recognition from others

In addition to these 5 key skills, Bennis and Nanus describe four areas of competency that all extraordinary leaders possess.

Attention Through Vision: Great leaders have a clear and compelling organizational vision and commit fully to getting there. They aren’t thrown off task by the myriad of day-to-day distractions; they remain undeterred when roadblocks and bumps in the road cross their paths. They capitalize on opportunities, course correct as necessary, and sustain focus, flexibility, and optimism along the way.

Meaning Through Communication: Great leaders know how to share their visions in ways that bring forth enthusiasm and commitment in others. This skill demands a mastery of communications alongside an ability to establish a context that resonates for all concerned. As the authors tell us:

“When the organization has a clear sense of its purpose, direction, and desired future state and when this image is widely shared, individuals are able to find their roles in both the organization and in the larger society of which they are a part.”

Purposeful engagement engenders vigor and enthusiasm for the tasks at hand.

Trust Through Positioning: Leaders secure trust by faithfulness to their organizational identity. It’s measured by how they structure and staff the organization, by the policies they enact, the decisions they make, and the results they achieve. Their fidelity yields “clean bills of health” when subjected to rigorous (unfettered) third party investigation or audit.

Deployment of Self Through Positive Self-Regard: Effective leadership springs from a healthy sense of self. Great leaders know their worth and trust themselves without getting caught up in their egos or needing to maintain external images. They’re committed to evolving personally and professionally. They evaluate themselves dispassionately to discern the “fit” between their skills/experience and the requirements of the job. They shore up their weaknesses and bend their ears toward good advice.

Finally, the authors remind us:

“The challenge to leaders will be to act as compassionate coaches, dedicated to reducing stress by ensuring that the who team has everything it needs – from human to financial resources to emotional support and encouragement – to work together effectively and at peak performance most of the time. Recognizing, developing, and celebrating the distinctive skills of each individual will become critically important to organizational survival.”

A Good Life

Now entering my fourth month of quarantine, I’m getting lots of time to read (and re-read) a variety of books. This week, I re-encountered Jonathan Field’s book, How To Live A Good Life: Soulful Stories, Surprising Science, and Practical Wisdom.

If you haven’t read anything by Jonathan Fields, I encourage you to give this book a go. He’s a wonderful writer, and his advice strikes me as thoughtful and grounded in reality. As the Founder of the Good Life Project, he hosts a popular podcast to which I subscribe and also runs conferences for folks seeking to take their lives up a notch.

Jonathan’s formula for living a good life relies upon creating balance in each of three “buckets”:

vitality, connection, contributionThe VITALITY BUCKET acknowledges that we need to be feel sufficiently fit, energized, strong, and flexible to participate fully in life. It entails making life choices that minimize pain, disease, and disability (e.g., nutritious diet, daily exercise and stretching, good sleep habits, eliminating stress/tension). It calls for living peacefully in the moment with gratitude for what we have and optimism toward the future. (Not surprisingly, he’s a big fan of meditation!) It also means cultivating a growth mindset that is open to opportunity and bounces back from adversity.

The CONNECTION BUCKET recognizes that we are fundamentally social creatures. We need to give and receive love. We need to be seen, understood, and embraced by folks who share our interests and values. And we need to connect to something that is larger than ourselves. To fill this bucket, we must do the inner work to understand ourselves well enough to identify “our tribes” while developing the skills to engage with integrity and compassion. We must also do the legwork to actually find our people and cultivate relationship with them. (Hint: We need to get our noses out of technology to do it!) Along the way, we can work toward becoming an increasingly better version of ourselves.

The CONTRIBUTION BUCKET entails knowing that we are doing what we’re meant to do and lighting up along the way. For many of us, this bucket may be the toughest to fill. We may have gotten so enmeshed in what life expected that we bypassed figuring out what really matters to us. Jonathan invites us to explore the following:

  • Curiosity: With what do you feel a deep yearning to answer a burning question?
  • Fascination: What subject matter triggers an intrinsic desire to learn?
  • Immersion: In what activities do you become engaged and then lose all track of time?
  • Mastery: What expertise or skills would you like to develop at the highest level?
  • Service: Where do you feel most adept and/or energized when contributing to those around you?

He encourages us to identify key strengths (e.g., as revealed by things like the VIA Survey of Character Strengths). They may prove useful for identifying focal areas. Likewise, distinctive skills, talents, knowledge and experience may come into play. That being said, we may not be excited about things at which we’re natively gifted or acquired mastery. We’ll only fill our contribution bucket when we’re good at something for which we feel an inner spark.

All three buckets benefit from the art of saying “no.” No to patterns of behavior that drain our physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual resources. No to relationships that distract us from our journeys or are otherwise energy vampires. No to letting our heads talk us into jumping on paths that our hearts know would be wrong for us.

Finally, Jonathan tells us to “think ripple, not wave.” Simple actions, moments, and experiences delivered with intention and integrity can propel us to a good life.

Twelve Practices for Spiritual Insight

I had occasion recently to reacquaint myself with Carolyn Myss’ Anatomy of the Spirit: The Seven Stages of Power and Healing, one of her 5 New York Times best-selling books. She’s a self-described subject matter expert in the fields of human consciousness, spirituality and mysticism, health, energy medicine, and the science of medical intuition. The book explores “energy anatomy,” a line of inquiry that correlates emotional, psychological, and spiritual stress with disease.

As one who has been interested in the mind-body connection and its impact on well-being, I found her work intriguing. It ties the 7 chakras, bodily organs, and related mental/emotional issues to specific physical dysfunctions. (See attached.) While I would pursue conventional medical treatment should I experience any of the indicated maladies, I’d certainly give due consideration to the indicated mental/emotional issues should they exert an influence on recovery. Read the book for a detailed exposition of her work.

For today’s post, I thought I’d paraphrase her twelve practices to attain symbolic sight and increase one’s ability to mirror divine reasoning. They’re good advice and may very well contribute favorably to a healthy lifestyle. They are:

  1. Practice introspection. Notice what you do and what you believe; explore the roots of your behaviors and worldviews.
  2. Be open-minded. Be an attentive observer to your thoughts and take notice when your mind “shuts down.”
  3. Be on the alert for defensiveness. It’s a clear indication that your mind is working to keep new insights from entering and influencing your consciousness.
  4. Recognize that all situations and relationships as “teachers,” even if you cannot recognize the messages or lessons in the moment.
  5. Pay attention to your dreams; they may provide valuable guidance and insight.
  6. Process and release thoughts that promote self-pity or anger; stop blaming others for things that happen to you. Such thoughts keep you stuck in unhealthy places and forestall growth.
  7. Practice detachment. Gather relevant data dispassionately to make the best possible decisions in the moment. Don’t constrain yourself to work toward a specific outcome.
  8. Refrain from judgments about people, situations, and the size and importance of tasks. The narrow window of the present does not provide a complete view of all the facts or details of any situation nor the long-term consequences of your actions.
  9. Recognize when you have been overtaken by fear and allowing its influence to govern your behavior. Identify the source and its impact on your mind and emotions. Make choices that diminish its influence.
  10. Distance yourself from value systems that argue for achieving certain goals as the precursor for success. Visualize success as an energy force through which you achieve enlightenment, self-control, and the wherewithal to navigate the challenges and opportunities that life presents.
  11. Act on your inner guidance; don’t wait for external validation of your intuition. The more you cling to a need for “proof,” the less likely you’ll receive it or recognize it when it comes.
  12. Focus your attention on the present moment. Don’t linger on the past or worry about the future. Learn to trust what you cannot see.