Thursday, July 7, 2011

the four R's

Rest...Relaxation...Renewal...Re-Creation. After finishing four weeks at our cottage in Maine, I am more committed than ever to these four R's. I have very few friends or colleagues who REALLY believe in the maxim of Sabbath and take it seriously. There is a reason that God instituted the concept of Sabbath, and I believe that those who are in leadership positions need to take this concept seriously and practice it regularly. Brian Tracy, in one of his newsletters over the past year, stated that leaders need one day a week with no work...3 straight days each month (long weekend) with no work, and at least 2 or more straight weeks each year with no work in order to rest, relax, renew, and re-create. Here is what these terms have meant to me over the past four weeks:

REST: my mind has rested from the day-to-day issues that regularly arise in my work. I have not heard an alarm clock go off for four weeks (though I still get up early - but on MY time). I have not had to make decisions (except for which movie to watch each night). My body and mind both are rested and I am ready to "get back at it" next week.
RELAXATION: To be able to just sit with my wife and relax together is something that does not happen on a regular basis. I am not talking about a few minutes on a Saturday morning, but full days of relaxing together. This is the "kick back and enjoy life" relaxing, done for a concentrated period of time (four weeks for us). I literally did not look at eamil for the first three weeks I was gone...but even catching up with it this past week has been relaxing as I went through it at my leisure time. Making relaxing a habit during these four weeks carries over to the rest of the year as I remember how important this is.
RENEWAL: My vacation is spent mostly reading - I probably read about 7-8 hours a day. I put together my reading list all year long, as well as remain serendipitous to see what might come my way during the time here (we have a great library and bookstore in town). I get to read long novels that I have been putting off, as well as some of the "hard" stuff (philosophy, etc) that needs my concentrated effort and time. As I read, I come up with new ideas and ways of thinking, always considering what I am learning in the process. To be able to read this quantity and quality of texts with little or no interruption is a real gift to myself.
RE-CREATION: The song "Morning Has Broken" talks about God's re-creation of the new day, and I beleive that this might be the best part of Sabbath, to be made NEW again and again throughout the process. I see the world differently today than I did one month relationship with my wife is more full than it was one month spiritual life is more complete than it was one month ago...I will be a better teacher than I was one month ago...I am more fit than I was one moth ago...I will lead differently than I did one month ago...I have different experiences to talk about than I did one month ago...I have a wider vocabulary than I did one month ago...I am a better person than I was one month ago. I am a NEW creation.

So I urge each of you reading this to take Sabbath seriously. I know it might not be possible to do four weeks every year, but remember these items as you prepare for an extended time away:

  • there will always be work left to do

  • no one is irreplaceable

  • you can always delegate more

  • the less you are around, the less people will rely on you

  • being away is a great way to develop other leaders

  • we got along without email and cell phones in the past

  • you have a lifetime of work ahead of you

Thanks for letting me share my Sabbath thoughts with you. How can you plan NOW for an extended Sabbath sometime in the future? And while you are at it, take that three day sabbath(no work) very soon!

Sunday, July 3, 2011

leadership ala proust

This past week I finished volume three of Marcel Proust's epic novel Remembrances of Things Past. The third volume (The Guermantes Way) is pretty spends over 100 pages describing a reception at one of the homes and another 130 pages describing a dinner party. The writing is phenomenal...the story progresses slowly yet keeps the reader interested...and since it is considered one of THE novels of western literature, I will keep reading over the next several summers until I finish all seven volumes.
Since most of my reading is done with what I call "leadership lenses," here are two leadership lessons learned from reading Proust:

  1. The narrator (the novel is semi-autobiographical) seems to idolize (and idealize) many of the characters prior to actually meeting them - he holds them in such a high esteem that he misses many opportunities to engage them and get to know them (i.e. the Duchesse Guermantes). Once he gets to really know them, he realizes that they are people just like him, with all the flaws that accompany humankind. We often put certain leaders on pedestals and become immobilized in approaching them or learning from them. Once we realize that all leaders put their pants on one leg at a time, it can become much easier to call them, approach them, email them, or invite them out for lunch. We should not be afraid of approaching people and getting to know them, just because they have a certain title or position. Much of the narrative of the novel is Marcel listening to these people talk amongst each other and getting to know them in that manner. Listening is key to building these relationships - and people love to talk about themselves. So be sure to show up at the right occasions, and just listen in.

  2. During the dinner party, after listening to some very "silly" conversations, the narrator makes this note to himself: "so there is no conversation, any more than there are personal relationships, from which we can be certain that we shall not one day derive some benefit." How true this is for each of us in our own lives. Every conversation - every talk - every person we meet - every relationship might have something to offer that will be of benefit to us in the future. Every book we read - every movie we watch - every speech we listen to - every opportunity to engage in a conversation might offer to us something that we can use in our own leadership in the future. Taking advantage of these opportunities and then making the most of them might be the mosts important part of our leadership development. As noted above, LISTENING is a key element in learning, so take advantage of all opportuniites presented to you to listen and learn.

By the way, in a recent Wall Street Journal article on summer reading of the 2012 presidential candidates, it was noted that Governor Rick Perry reads (and re-reads in the original French language) Proust's Remembrances of Things Past. While I am no Rick Perry, it was nice to see that others in leadership positions read this novel. Hope he also takes away leadership lessons from reading great literature.