Author: stoshdwalsh

Leadership

Before the Funeral…


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Most people are praised most consistently, most ardently, at their funerals.

I do not understand this phenomenon. In fact, I am against it. I cannot fathom this one thing: why we honor those most cherished among us primarily (sometimes only) in grief.

Why is this?

Do we not take the time to think about what we appreciate about others until they are gone?

Are we not brave enough to tell them?

Do we lack the habit of seeing the best in people day to day?

Do we avoid the moment as too awkward?

But these questions diagnose. They are the wrong questions.

Because the question we should be asking is, “How would the world I influence be better if everyone I know, everyone I meet, felt the full force of my attention and acknowledgement of them?”

It looks different for everyone–some give words, others a listening ear, still others eye contact or empathy. But we all give something, or, at least, we can.

We can.

And we should. Because our worlds would be better if we did that.

And THE World is the sum of our worlds.

Sure, I’m altruistic, but I’m not naive. I don’t think being current with people, or giving some tribute to another will change the world, but I do think it would make the world better.

Or at least it would make yours better.

And mine better.

And maybe someone would be inspired by that.

Maybe someone would find courage from that.

So what do you have to give?

Who needs to hear from you or receive from you?

I do.

We do.

Don’t wait. Don’t regret. But don’t do it because of that. Do it because you know what you can give, because you believe in the effect you can have.

I do.

We do.

And for us to influence our worlds, we need you to influence us as a part of yours.

courage

Courage.


I first watched this video because it was linked to a post by my friend Kelly.  I resonated with it not so much for the music or for the video, but for the lyrics.

Brave.

Don’t run.

Stop holding your tongue.

Let your words be anything but empty.

Maybe there’s a way out of the cage where you live.

Maybe one of these days you can let the light in.

Show me how big your brave is.

One of my greatest causes in life is to give other people courage.  People are afraid of all kinds of things—afraid of their past, afraid of the future, afraid of dying, afraid of being alone, afraid of what others think of them, afraid of failing…  it seems like so much of what we do is driven by fear.

And yet “perfect love casts out fear,” and the thing God says to us more than any other is, “Do not be afraid.”

I wonder if we are afraid because we don’t feel like we are loved.  Because if you feel like someone loves you, like they will stay no matter what, like they are on your side forever, then all of a sudden it doesn’t matter as much how many times you fail, or that you aren’t as smart or pretty or whatever as someone else is.

But that never should have been the standard to begin with.

You see, part of the reason I want my life to be about inviting people to courage is because I believe with everything I am and have that the whisper of greatness was spoken into every single person who has ever walked this earth; that before the beginning of time one who knew your name before anyone ever uttered it set a light in you that was meant to shine forever.

Too many of us have forgotten that.  Too many of us think that courage is dancing in a town square or jumping out of an airplane or zip lining.

No, courage is living your life the way it was meant to be lived.  Courage is hearing that whisper and doing what it says.  Courage is a lifetime, not one time, which is why for some among us, courage is as simple as getting up this morning.  For some, courage is living today because what they really want more than anything is to die.  For some, courage is a first or second or third day without the drug or the drink or the person or the job or the life they had imagined.  For some, courage is just making it through today.

But courage is also fighting the battles with and for others while we fight our own.  It is taking the time to listen or help or encourage.  It is realizing that if we are courageous in this moment, then it is not just for ourselves.

Courage looks a little different from everyone.

Courage looks a little different for everyone.

But it always leads to a life of significance.

Mine looks like this: someone reading this will write me a note; it might be right away, it might be months from now, but it will start with something like, “I’m sorry to bother you, but I didn’t know who else to reach out to…” and I will say, “It took a lot of courage for you to reach out like that, and I will help you in whatever way I can…”

So if you are that person, know that my courage is waiting for your courage whenever it is ready.

And whether you are that person or not, I’d like to know what your courage looks like.  I’d like to know what you’d do if you were not afraid.  I’d like to hear your story of what happens when you exercise courage, and I’d like to see you be that way again and again and again.

Leadership

In Praise of Moms as Leaders


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In Praise of Moms as Leaders

Most of them don’t see themselves as anything special.  They know what they are doing is important, but they don’t feel good at it; they feel ill-prepared or under-prepared, if they feel prepared at all.  They remember their mistakes more than their successes.  They work harder than anyone else, yet receive minimal appreciation.  But they persist.  And succeed.  Incrementally, they make a difference, eventually accepting the appreciation and thanks of those for whom they sacrificed.

Moms.

No better leaders, servant leaders, exist on the planet.  Moms, you deserve to see yourself this way.  You deserve to know that we see you this way.  You deserve to know that when we walk into your homes, we don’t see dirty dishes or a floor that needs vacuuming or a kid that you can’t get under control.

No, instead we see leadership.  We see investment and a willingness to do things that no one else would do, things no one else can do, just because it is the right thing to do.  Legacies are the product of situations—each moment you handle, each behind the scenes action, whether noticed by others or not, creates your legacy.  All the pride you have in the ones you have helped to grow, to learn, to succeed—all that they have accomplished they owe, in large part, to you.

To your leadership.

Some of you know the great relief and satisfaction of having this acknowledged.  Others of you wait for that day, not expecting, but hopeful.  Whenever it comes, though, know that we notice and appreciate you as you wait.

Know, too, if you are a Mom not by blood but by choice, if you are a Mom because you have chosen to be the one who opens your home or goes out for coffee or mentors after class, that you are included in this.  You lead just as much, serve just as well, and we love you because we choose to, because you chose us first.

So hold your heads up, Moms—you don’t hear it enough and never will, but your leadership is the model that has made us who we are, and we cannot thank you enough.

We stand on your shoulders, and we love you.

Faith, Leadership

Why Frustration is a Reminder of Progress and Blessing


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I’ve been frustrated lately.

My children, particularly my son, have been having some measure of difficulty with completing ordinary household duties like taking out trash and vacuuming.  Like many who will be reading this, I am not a big fan of repeating myself, yet I find myself doing it often of late.

All of this is normal, of course, as I do not know of any 10-12 year olds who do everything they are asked to do the moment they are asked to do it, and complete their every task without error as well as an adult would do it.

As I reflected on this further, though, I realized that my wife and I are, in part, the cause of their nonchalance.  You see, my children have things that neither my wife nor I had when we were their age.  Sure, times have changed, technology has increased, but that is not what I am talking about.  What I’m talking about is the fact that my wife and I both grew up in single parent homes.  My kids take things like having meals cooked for them and having laundry done for them for granted because they have two parents, because they do not have to pitch in to household causes in the same way that my wife and I did.  My wife does not work outside the home.  She works harder than any of the rest of us, but she does not work outside the home.  Our family eats dinner together pretty much every night of the week.  In our families of origin, however, this was not the case.  It wasn’t their fault, but neither of our hard working and industrious mothers could provide the kind of environment to us that our children enjoy.  That, in part, is their legacy (a key, but often overlooked, concept of leadership) to their grandchildren, but, as I reflected, it is also exactly what I wanted for my kids.

So yes, they don’t have the same kind of habits my wife and I had when we were young.  They don’t have the same responsibilities, the same sense of ownership.

But our kids get to be kids, and that is our legacy to them.

It isn’t that they have no expectations placed upon them, nor that they have relaxed standards for the responsibilities they do have, but my frustration is of my own making.  It represents progress.  It represents blessing.

It represents legacy.

Faith

I Expect to Die


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I have too much death in my life of late.  Remembrances as anniversaries pass, acquaintances and friends passing away in the prime of their youth, spouses and young children left to grieve and make sense of things that will never fully make sense…  it is arduous.  This life is arduous.

My friend Kelly says that pain is the great equalizer, the one thing with the power to bring us all together.  I agree with that.  I have always thought, and always tried to practice, moving toward pain, not away from it.  That habit has made for some uncomfortable times, some uncomfortable years—my first two years of college were spent emotionally underwater as I tried to move toward my story, toward the pain of my father’s suicide—those times have hardened me, but they have also softened me to the pain of others (one of my favorite concepts is Ezekiel’s heart of stone and heart of flesh).

In short, I would not wish it on anyone, and yet I would wish it on everyone.

We run from our pain, we medicate it, we ignore it, we hide it, we distract ourselves from it…  but it never goes away, because my friend Kelly is right—pain is universal.

And so, surrounded by all this death, I think about my own life, and, yes, your life too.  I think about what I want my life to be like, what I want people to say about me.  This isn’t about being morbid or fatalistic; it is about moving toward pain, and living a life without walls and all the other bullshit we parade out so we don’t have to be real in front of other people.  Yes, it’s hard, and most of us are scared, and even those who aren’t have good reasons to be.  But this isn’t a drill.  This is life, the only one you have.

Have you ever thought about what you want people to say at your funeral?

The more I think about it, the more I realize that I want people to say, “He expected this.”

He expected this.

Almost no one expects to die on her last day.  Almost no one gets in the car before their fatal accident thinking they have an hour to live.  People who expect to die write books, and we all read them and think about how courageous they were (see “The Last Lecture” etc.).

But what I want to know is why I am not like that?  Why are we not like that?  Why do we marvel at it in others and not model it ourselves?

No.  I’ve had enough of that.  I want to live like I expect to die, and I want to do it in such a way that everyone else says, “That guy is crazy.  He acts like he’s going to die tomorrow.”

But it is more than that.  I want to live like I expect everyone else is going to die tomorrow, too.  I want to say the things that will encourage; I want to demonstrate love both for those closest to me as well as those I do not even know; I want to give time, empathy, money, strength to as many people as I can; I want to heal people.

Most of all, though, I want to give people courage.  I want to love them enough that they aren’t afraid anymore.  Enough that they will remember it when they are afraid again.

So if I make your acquaintance, or I reach out to you for no reason, it is because I love you.  It is because I want you to be courageous.

And it is because I expect both of us to die.

Faith, Leadership

Why Honor Is Greater Than Forgiveness


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I originally wrote this in 2011 as a note on Facebook.  Today would have been my dad’s 65th birthday, so I thought it appropriate to revisit it today.

 

I just don’t care enough…

What other people think of me.  I’m going to be the one who speaks out loud, who says too much, who pushes “send,” who gets people thinking, who gets people talking, who invites people to touch their lives by touching mine.  I’m not excited about putting this out there for public consumption, but I’m going to do it anyway, because that is what I do.  I refuse to live with the notion that even one person could benefit from something I think or say, and I failed to say it.  So whether this is for you or someone else…

My dad’s birthday was last week.  As of this year, he has passed more birthdays posthumously than he did living.  He committed suicide when I was 5.  It was an ignominious act for which I struggled to forgive him for much of my life.  It yoked my then 24 year old mom and 2 younger sisters with a tremendous weight, part of which I bore though it was not mine.

But over many years, as I have thought about forgiveness, I come to a full realization that forgiveness, though difficult, is, well, comparatively easy.  What is difficult is honor.  Forgiveness inspires us, but honor amazes us.

Many of you know the hymn “Amazing Grace”—Amazing is the right word.  Here’s why: It’s comparatively easy for God to forgive—He’s in the right; He’s holding all the cards.  But He goes beyond that.  He honors us, gives us grace, prepares a place for us.  It’s crazy, really.

But you know this more intimately than that.  Even if you don’t believe in God, you know this.  You’ve been wronged.  You’ve felt pain inflicted deliberately by another.  You’ve felt hurt by someone who, because they did not intend, would not acknowledge.  You know what it is like to have someone who hurt you not be sorry for what they have done.

And you know what it feels like not to be sorry for what you have done, too.

It’s hard to forgive when any of those things happen, isn’t it?  Crazy hard.

But honor.  Think about it.  Honor for someone who isn’t sorry, who doesn’t think they did anything wrong, who protests their innocence or ignorance, who remains unwilling to acknowledge the mere possibility…  honoring that person goes beyond forgiveness.  It’s harder.  You don’t see it very much, but you remember it when you do.  Because it’s extreme.

Because it’s God-like.  It gives us a glimpse—dim, yes, but a glimpse—of what that honor bestowed on us will look like, what we are capable of because of the Spirit that dwells within us.

But then we feel guilty.

Because we fail to practice this.  We don’t live up to it.  We “can’t,” not with that person, at least.

But we can.  It just isn’t fully up to us.  Wasn’t, isn’t, meant to be up to us.  I can’t honor on my own.  I want to hold a grudge, to be pissed off, to lament and pout and cry and wish I had all the things that growing up with a good dad would have afforded me.  I want to put my fist through a wall and turn it all to anger (oh, and I used to…) so I don’t have to feel the grief and pain of memory and forgiveness and honor.  So just for the record—I didn’t do it.  I couldn’t have.   Not possible.

The truth is, honor surprised me as I was writing the words that follow.  I intended to forgive (again), but I couldn’t.  Because it wasn’t enough somehow.  I’ve been doing that for years.  I had to honor.  In my novice way, incomplete and still somehow holding all the cards, I must, we must, honor.

So here’s the poem I wrote my dad.  I’d love to hear from you if something in it is for you.

 

It comes when I expect it

And when I least expect it

It has marked me now

The loss

I know its touch

I hear its voice

It settles with me

Ignored at times for some distraction

Though not forgotten

For far too bright the light that shines

 

Making plain my shadow

A reminder to my heart

Of how I would have loved you

How I would have basked in the light of your prime

What I would have given

To have your life

A shield for mine

To see your steps from just behind

To see a way

To know a time

 

How you would have beamed with pride

At the toils and trophies of my life

And how I would have loved your smile

Yearned for it with all my might

I would have been your prince

I would have seen you king

My children

The glory of your line

So many apples for your eyes

 

And were our lives not filled

With happier times

And if golden memory failed to shine

Eclipsed by a reality of something less fine

Still you would be enough for me

I think so

Though

I do not know

I did not know

I will not know

 

And maybe you were prescient

And maybe I naïve

(How I wanted to believe)

I have forgiven myself only moments

And lonely moments conceive

The reign of an ill-fitted crown

Bequeathed before discovered means

Worn askew

But I have straightened it for you

In spite of everything, it honors you

 

I honor you

Leadership

Why “Under Promise and Over Deliver” is a Bad Mantra


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You’ve heard it a million times: “Under promise and over deliver.”

But why?

Is it so that our customers or stakeholders won’t be let down by our actions or products?  Perhaps because we worry about our ability to deliver?

Both are poor reasoning, and suffer from a lack of confidence.

Most people, if asked, say they pride themselves on their ability to follow through.  Most also rate themselves as having high ethics.  The same is true of organizations.

So why all the under promising?

Aren’t most of us more impressed by service providers who stake a claim and make good on it than we are by those who set us up for limited, or uncertain, expectations and then exceed them?  (Isn’t it possible to exceed limited expectations and still be average?)

Even if some among us are not, I submit that individuals and organizations leave a telling advantage on the table by failing to make more of their promises public.  If a person or organization takes pride in the ability to follow through, and consistently proves this ability, doesn’t it make sense to capitalize on it?  Don’t our customers and stakeholders want to know up front what to expect, and that the reputation of the organization and its representatives is such that excellence is all but assured?

Consider the same phenomenon in your personal relationships.  If someone asks you to go to the movies, and you say, “Yes, I can go to the movies with you in a month,” does it strengthen your bond further by calling them next weekend and saying you can go?  I’m sure many will find that example absurd, yet we do it as representatives of our respective organizations every day.

It is time to retire “under promise and over deliver” and replace it with “promise, then deliver.”

This realizes a competitive advantage if individuals and organizations are reliable, and strengthens relationships by doing not less or more, but exactly what we have promised.  If we can do better than our initial promise by delivering early or at a lower cost, great, but to limit what we promise for fear of failing if it is part of our core business is fatal.

Someone will no doubt argue that under promise and over deliver works if you cannot control the outcome.  Fair enough, but isn’t it more transparent to say so, then follow up with a firm commitment after you have checked with the others who will help you make it happen?  Again, a personal parallel: how many parents, upon being approached by a child for some permission, reply with something like, “Let me talk to your mother”?  The child, will, of course, persist, but the promise will not be forthcoming until the issue has been ratified.  Is business all that different?

It needn’t be.

Promise, then deliver.

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Heroes and Higher Standards


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Leadership merits a higher standard.  Whether embracing the mantle of public figure, voice of a movement, millionaire athlete, or mom, leaders are people others watch.  A higher standard is an implied contract with the position.  Perhaps it is unfair, but I submit that the best leaders among us will always welcome this aspect of leadership and seek to present themselves well, imperfect though they will inevitably be.

Consider Lance Armstrong.  He has been the face of cancer survivors for years, and there can be no doubt that his Livestrong foundation has done great things for people who are fighting that arduous battle, but his protestations of innocence and virulent attacks against his accusers in light of mounting, and now overwhelming, evidence for all those years has tarnished his legacy, his credibility, and his integrity.  He has done precious little to embrace the mantle of leadership.  Even if he did not want it (remember the commercials with Charles Barkley?  “I’m not a role model!”), it comes with the territory.  One cannot be the face of a movement and yet eschew a higher standard.  Fair or not, it is reality—a reality that must be embraced if one is to lead well.

Regrettably, Armstrong has failed to understand this.  He will, no doubt, be forgiven and remain in the public eye.  While we should not withhold forgiveness and reconciliation from the contrite, we would do well to choose our heroes more carefully, and, having done so, to hold them to higher standards.