Why and how to “allow leadership to arise in you as you really are in any moment when leadership is called out”
The core thesis of this book is that within each person, there are potentialities that are dormant, if not asleep. This may be what Whitman had in mind in Song of Myself when he asserted, “I am large, I contain multitudes.” As Alan Shelton explains, “Who you really are bubbles up continuously to form the intuition that initiates the seeking. And the seeking that you undertake [during a journey of self-discovery] can indeed eradicate your identification with who you think you are. Moving toward recognizing the truth is a transformational journey in which the ‘you’ that you believe yourself to be will be lost and something [someone] entirely new will take its place.”
I share Shelton’s affection (passion?) for metaphors but wary of them when in danger of excessive use, a form of abuse. However, I am comfortable with “journey” because it has several relevancies insofar what this book is about is concerned. First, with regard to man’s lifelong quest for knowledge and understanding on a personal level; next, as a progression through various stages of employment (including self-employment) that require rigorous scrutiny in terms of perils and opportunities; and finally, the process by which (hopefully) we improve our ability to answer questions and solve problems.
For Shelton, if I understand his key points correctly (and I may not), progress is best measured in terms of the nature and extent of increased awareness. His objective is to provide the information, insights, and counsel his reader needs to experience the multi-dimensional reality of “the highest form of awareness.”
Here are a few of the several dozen passages that caught my eye:
o The significance to Shelton of the song, “Puff, the Magic Dragon” (Pages 29-30)
o His inability to believe in a God others believe to be “unseen and unfelt” (Pages 36-37)
o His difficulties with graduate school education (Page 76-77)
o The significance of his firm’s success during his absence (Pages 83-84)
o What he learned during an extended residence in an ashram (Chapters 9 and 10)
o The significance to Shelton of the Systems Dynamics Theory (Pages 187-188)
While reading Chapter 18, “Doorways to Awakening,” I was reminded of this passage in Alan Watts’s book, The Book, in which he discusses an especially serious threat to self-discovery and self-fulfillment: “We need a new experience — a new feeling of what it is to be ‘I.’ The lowdown (which is, of course, the secret and profound view) on life is that our normal sensation of self is a hoax, or, at best, a temporary role that we are playing, or have been conned into playing — with our own tacit consent, just as every hypnotized person is basically willing to be hypnotized. The most strongly enforced of all known taboos is the taboo against knowing who or what you really are behind the mask of your apparently separate, independent, and isolated ego.”
No one can duplicate Alan Shelton’s journey of self-discovery and self-fulfillment, nor can he duplicate anyone else’s. But he and (yes) we can embark or remain on that perilous journey, encouraged by others en route while encouraging them to stay the course with patience but persistence. Wherever we are, wherever we go, we are always alone…and together.
Adam Bryant conducts interviews of senior-level executives that appear in his “Corner Office” column each week in the SundayBusiness section of The New York Times. Here are a few insights provided during an interview of Chris Barbin, chief executive of Appirio, an information technology company that focuses on cloud services.
To read the complete interview as well as Bryant’s interviews of other executives, please click here.
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“In one adjective, please tell me who you are.”
Bryant: What are some important leadership lessons you’ve learned?
Barbin: I would start with transparency — it is a huge part of our culture, and what I think makes a company and team really thrive and work. You should never surprise an employee. I’ve had experiences in my career where you’re building something, you think everything’s great and all of a sudden there’s a layoff. That should never happen. The team should know. We have meetings every other week in the company, and we use a system of red light, yellow light, green light on the key attributes of the business, like financials, customers and team.
From my experience at bigger companies, I think there’s a tendency to overanalyze, with too many metrics. It can be confusing, so you have to boil it down to simple, crisp goals that you hammer and repeat. That’s part of transparency, too.
Bryant: Tell me more about the culture of your company.
Barbin: We have three values that we hire against and three that we run it against. The three that we hire against are trust, professionalism and gray matter — as in, how smart are you? The three we run it against are customers, team and fun. That last one is really core — if you’re not having fun 8 out of 10 days on a consistent basis, you’ve got to say something. You can’t just expect that your manager always knows if you’re not having fun.
I reach out to a lot of employees. It’s one of the first questions I ask: “Are you having fun?” I can see it in their eyes, hear it in their voice. I’ll just ask, “What’s your ratio of fun days right now? Are you 6, 8, 9, are you 4 out of 10? If you’re 4, why?” It helps me get to root causes, since it’s a pretty easy thing for people to think about.
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Adam Bryant, deputy national editor of The New York Times, oversees coverage of education issues, military affairs, law, and works with reporters in many of the Times‘ domestic bureaus. He also conducts interviews with CEOs and other leaders for Corner Office, a weekly feature in the SundayBusiness section and on nytimes.com that he started in March 2009. In his book, The Corner Office: Indispensable and Unexpected Lessons from CEOs on How to Lead and Succeed, (Times Books), he analyzes the broader lessons that emerge from his interviews with more than 70 leaders. To read an excerpt, please click here. To contact him, please click here.