Monday, July 02, 2007

Taking Five Steps

© Lance Giroux, 2007

Working with organization all over the world on human effectiveness, especially with respect to topic of leadership, has afforded me opportunities to see how well organizational principles translate into those needed for healthy personal relationships in general, and for those we could have with our youth and children, in particular.

In his best selling book, The Fifth Discipline: The Art & Practice of the Learning Organization, Peter Senge says, “Organizations learn only through individuals who learn. Individual learning does not guarantee organizational learning. But without it no organizational learning occurs.” What more fundamental an organization could there be for the study, application and development of healthy human effectiveness than what we call family? My past thirty-two years observing human interaction, communication and miscommunication have shown me that many of our problems - business to geopolitics -are rooted by influences affecting the fundamental beliefs and behaviors established during one’s adolescent years. This observation is reflected by scholars and some well-know authors, e.g. M. Scott Peck and The Road Less Traveled. We can invent mobile telephones and HDTV’s; satellite navigation systems used by private pilots, soldiers, car rental companies, and large trucking fleets; and iPods more powerful than the largest computers available when I was a cadet at West Point in the early 1970’s. But when it comes right down to it, it’s people and what’s going on in their minds and hearts, that in the long run always matters and makes a difference. When a mechanical system fails, when the electricity goes out, when your car is out of gas, the train derails, when the computer crashes … who is going to take action? The answer is, and always has been, one human being willing to roll up his or her sleeves, take a risk and attract others to join in the effort.

In an effort to help organizations get things accomplished with excellence Stephen Covey points out in 7 Habits of Highly Effective People that we ought consider the distinction between what is important and what is urgent and orient our thoughts and actions toward the former. He argues that managers fall into traps of failure when between these two - importance and urgency – the lines have become blurred. One has a long-term orientation and the other is short-term in consequences and thus conveniently occupies (probably unfortunately) our daily living. We opt for the short-term bustle of the urgent, Covey asserts, rather than take on the taxing and more challenging task of attending to what should be important. Translated into a family situation – how much time do we truly communicate with our children and youth about what matters in our hearts and minds versus how much time do we spend telling them what to do or not to do next (at best) or telling them what we haven’t the time to talk about (at worst)?

In 1994 I developed a five-step method designed to assist organizational executives with the important challenge of developing leaders within organizations. These five steps were influenced by lessons I learned at West Point and then in the Army, and later in business. As I began to use these five steps I saw a need for exposing them to moms and dads and teachers – so that their lives could be more fruitful with kids. You know, the people who will eventually (probably more sooner than later) be parents and teachers themselves, and run organizations and states and nations.

Rule number one to applying this methodology, and perhaps the most important thing to remember from this reading today is: Be Here Now. This means, get present and stay present with what’s happening all around you and inside you moment to moment. Get conscious and tend to what your senses, emotions and intuition is informing you about. A current and excellent source for how to do this is the book Coming to Our Senses: Healing Ourselves and the World Through Mindfulness (Kabat-Zinn).

The five steps then are:

Recognize the individual strength or uniqueness of the persons you are attempting to develop. (This means you have to really pay attention to them.)

Encourage and inspire these persons to develop, practice and unleash their own (not your) strengths and uniqueness. (These words were carefully chosen.)

Give these people a sense of direction … but make absolutely certain that in doing this you and they are grounded in shared principles and values. (Direction not grounded in shared values leads to conflict and revolution.)

As often as possible, get out of their way as they go about developing their strengths, talents and uniqueness. (In other words … let them think, struggle, create and own their results!)

Learn sincerely from them. Apply what they can teach you to your daily living… and acknowledge them for having contributed to you. (The most motivational thing you can do.)

Think for a minute … what if we could use these five steps more often at home and in school? What if we truly saw our children for who they are and could be rather that what we think they should be? What if we allowed our children to be OK with their fears (encouragement) and if we could breath life into their world by healthy actions of our own (inspiration) and then made sincere efforts to repeat this kind of an allowance on daily basis (practice)? What if we showed our kids healthy options through our own actions rather than “do as I say … not as I do”… i.e. what if we walked our own talk? What if we allowed for failure (theirs and ours) and talked with them about it and the accountable and responsible learning that can grow from failure rather than press for the stiffness of perfectionism? What if the younger ones could through direct action see how their efforts inspire changes in our “adult” lives? How much of a contribution could we collectively make to future generations?

To paraphrase Peter Senge: Families and schools learn only through parents, children, teachers and students who learn. Individual learning does not guarantee that families will be healthy and schools will be good. But without individual learning, healthy families, schools and communities simply will not occur. Ours is a dynamic world … not a static vacuum.

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