“What lies behind us and what lies ahead of us are tiny matters compared to what lies within us.”

Ralph Waldo Emerson

“Normally, we do not so much look at things as overlook them.”

Alan Watts

“When another person makes you suffer, it is because he suffers deeply within himself, and his suffering is spilling over. He does not need punishment; he needs help.”

Teich Naht Hanh

“No two leaves are alike, and yet there is no antagonism between them or between the branches on which they grow.”

Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi

“I imagine one of the reasons people cling to their hates so stubbornly is because they sense, once hate is gone, they will be forced to deal with pain.”

James A. Baldwin

“The lowest levels of consciousness are security and status.”

Richard Rohr

“There are two ways to be rich in this world – you can have a lot of money or you can have a lot of friends. But you can’t have both.”

Freddy Heineken

It’s funny how those life-changing “ah-ha” moments happen when you least expect them… like watching the last Rocky movie.  The character of Rocky has always been fascinating to me. Maybe that’s because the story has been around as long as I have. Growing up, Rocky reminded me a little of my own father — strong on the outside, soft on the inside, and nothing pretentious in between.

The final chapter of the Rocky story begins by revealing what happens after all the glory fades. He had fame and fortune and was on top of the world, but as he’s aged, life has taken its toll. People still recognize him on the streets, and ask for his autograph, but the money’s all gone. He grieves the death of his lovely wife, Adrian. On the surface, he seems painfully unaware of his own irrelevance — the world has moved on but he appears to stuck in the past, living backwards.

But there is more than meets the eye.

Rocky seems to have figured out something about life few of us get to taste. He is truly free from the opinion of others — not in the way that devalues others — but in the way that can keep us from ever knowing ourselves, forming our own opinions and convictions, and taking a stand in the world.  Over the years, Rocky has become a remarkable man inside; he’s simple and far from perfect. He’s unpretentious, humble, gracious, strong, confident, and vulnerable and real and wise. This kind of perspective is only possible for a man who gives up trying to be what he thinks everybody else wants him to be, a man who stops pretending to be something he is not, a man who is so comfortable in his own skin his very presence invites us to take another step in becoming comfortable in ours.

In this scene, he speaks to his son as only a father can — with love and truth. Rocky calls him out of his own insecurities without blaming or criticizing him. Rocky calls his son to something bigger by restoring his true identity. Then he walks away. You get to decide who you are going to be.

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There is a great deal of talk about leadership lately in my circles. But it’s still a bit elusive. What are we talking about when we talk about leadership?

The Cultural Ideals. What comes to mind when you think about leadership — the charisma of a Fortune 500 CEO, the bold strength of a four-star general, the sacrificial service of Mother Theresa, the fame of celebrity, or the principles made popular by John Maxwell? Millions of books have been written and taught about the virtues of the subject and yet, in practice, the very idea of leadership can trigger a great deal of mistrust. Why is that?

The Rarely Addressed Consequences. When everything in our culture celebrates the spotlight, it’s difficult to separate leadership from the hierarchy we crown it with — it creates the notion leadership is synonymous with an achievement or climbing up the ladder of success. Fierce competition overshadows the importance of how the hierarchy is scaled and confuses leadership with identity. It also causes an unhealthy codependency between leader and follower where one decides the fate of many, at the expense of many, because the many gave permission to the one. Because of this, we’ve all experienced the harmful effects of poor leadership — the proclamation of something good traded for an abuse of power, coercion, deception, manipulation, destructive control and exploitation of authority. The person we celebrate in the spotlight can be someone who wants the position of glory more than the sweat required to actually care and serve, all because somehow we’ve agreed to the premise that power comes from a higher position rather than the character within.

The Character of Leadership. Generally, there are two types of people who want to be leaders… those who want to be somebody and those who want to do something. If we ask ourselves which one we are, it will tell us if we really are leaders or are merely pretending to be something we’re not.

If we take leadership outside of an artificial hierarchal power structure, what might it look like? Maybe something like this:

  • Leadership is about service, not rank or position. It’s caring for your neighbor. It’s cleaning the toilet. It’s being the last one to eat because you want to make sure everyone gets some good food before you can think about rest for yourself. 
  • Leadership takes initiative. It is the willingness to go first, to courageously do the right thing, and to go alone if no one else dares. It’s the internal drive that no one else can decide, create or duplicate for another person. It is a heart thing that cannot be faked.
  • Leadership is not about needing permission from “followers”You don’t need someone else’s permission to care about, serve, or love them. Of course, those you serve have the choice whether to receive it or not. But that cannot be confused with waiting around for someone else to see you as a leader.
  • Leadership knows authority comes from character alone. Authority is the moral center we trust and submit to when power, responsibility, and love collide in perfect harmony. We naturally follow those who serve and care about others, commit to taking responsibility, and have the power to follow through and deliver. Authority without trust is abuse.
  • Leadership functions as power under, not power over someone else. There is a wide gap between influence and service to others vs. exploitation and using others — one empowers an individual while the other forces submission of that individual. When all of these aspects align, there is an unleashing of power that is not threatened with others have that same power.
  • Leadership is not exclusive to men. Women have as much, if not more, of a right to lead because of their proven history of service, commitment, care for others and strength of character. None of these traits are exclusive to men — in fact, many men fail to develop such traits where women excel. Woman are equal in capacity for authority; I think it’s time they are treated with the same automatic dignity and respect we’ve naturally given to men without question.

Who wants to be a leader now?

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It’s ok to feel disappointed… even if it’s uncomfortable.

Of course we believe that’s true for big things; we give ourselves permission to feel disappointed for losing our job, being involved in a car accident, or finding out someone close to us has cancer. We wouldn’t purposely deny the heartache of those. But what about the small things? They may seem petty in comparison, like when we finally get to our morning coffee and it’s cold, or rip a hole in a favorite pair of pants, or a loved one subtly rolls their eyes when you try to connect with them. So we tuck them away, to unsuspectingly carry them with us all day long where they blanket us with a vague sense of gloom or evolve into an angry outburst over something insignificant.

When I get down, it’s good to remember the weight of depression can often be traced back to a series of small unacknowledged disappointments. They, like you and I, just need to be seen. If that simple request is honored, we can move on without skipping a beat. The wisdom in the old cliché “there’s no use in crying over spilt milk” is only gleaned after we can admit to ourselves the tears behind it all are very real. It’s only after we give ourselves permission to feel disappointed, that we can clearly see a bigger truth. Spills can be cleaned up.

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