Thursday, March 29, 2007


I recently talked to the graduates of “Leadership Barnesville,” a leadership program that prepares leaders to be effective and progressive civic leaders.

Some of my comments:

Anthropologist Margaret Mead wrote: “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has.”

Margaret Wheatley defined a leader as “anyone who wants to help.”

Gandhi said: "if you want to change the world, be the change that you want to see in the world."

You are doing these things: you are a group of committed people who want to help and want to make your community even better than it is. Your leadership program prepares you to be effective, progressive civic leaders by developing your leadership skills and broadening your community awareness.

A few suggestions for your journey to leadership:

Know who you are. Why are you here? What is your purpose in life? Where are you going? What is your vision for your life? What values will guide you along the way as you move toward your vision as you fulfill your purpose?

Develop your talents—not your weaknesses. What are your God-given gifts? What do you love to do? What are you doing when time flies for you? What do you learn easily? The answers to these questions are clues to your talents. Develop them by gaining new knowledge and new skills. Highly actualized people develop their talents. They do not waste a lot of time trying to get good at what they are bad at.

Take time to think; no one will give you that time. In fact, many prefer that you not think for yourself. Demand that time for yourself. Do not mindlessly allow the organization or institution to replace the parents of your childhood—become independent and become your own person in your adulthood. Outstanding people take time to think.

Stay connected to your humanity—nothing is more important to our collective community. We live in a time of great and constantly accelerating change that threatens what makes us human. Don’t allow yourself to lose your humanity: stay in touch with your spirit and emotions, know your impact on others, develop your empathy and your compassion for others, for the endangered natural world, and for yourself.

Great leaders take bold actions. You will make mistakes, I promise you. Face them head-on. You’ll have failures and disappointments as all of us do. When you make a leadership mistake: admit it, apologize, fix what needs to be fixed, and move on. People will respect you for it.

Get comfortable with ambiguity, uncertainty, and change for they will be with you throughout your life. Resist simplistic black and white answers to life’s complexity and mystery—the more you do the more successful you will be. I once told a consultant when I was in the middle of a leadership challenge, “I’ve grown comfortable feeling scared and inadequate much of the time.” You need to gain that same comfort with being uncomfortable.

Finally, live creative and create with love. Only work for organizations that expand human potential, and be who you are—life demands nothing more and nothing less of you.

Robert Greenleaf, author of “Servant Leadership” wrote that caring is the essential motive of leadership. Caring, Greenleaf wrote, is an exacting and demanding business. It requires not only interest and compassion and concern; it demands self-sacrifice and wisdom and tough-mindedness and discipline—just as you have shown in your leadership program.

If you always care, including taking care of yourselves, I predict that Barnesville will be just fine in 20 years and will be a better community because of you—and that will be a grand legacy for each of you.

Your time as community leaders will go fast so follow your heart and spend time doing what you love to do with people who bring out the best in you.

My wish for you is that you choose values, authenticity, and personal responsibility. I wish for you grand visions of the future you want to create and noble goals and the courage to be great.

Wednesday, March 21, 2007


In the March 18, 2007 “From The Editor” column, The Forum’s Matthew Von Pinnon placed the blame squarely on the media for the lack of aggressive questions, investigations, and news reports on the war in Iraq.

This is a stunning and honest admission. The media has colluded with people in power, enabled them, and allowed themselves to be manipulated to serve the purposes of politicians, bureaucrats, and insular institutions interested only in their own agendas to the detriment of all others. And the media has failed us in all areas of our shared lives—not just the war in Iraq.

Newspapers are in decline. While the reasons for the decline of newspapers are complex, the loss of its fundamental purpose—its soul—is primary: In its desire to be all things to all people for profitability, American journalism abdicated its noble purpose: to uncover and report the truth, on issues large and small, to the American people.

Mr. Von Pinnon wrote: “We’re not going to follow the pack any longer. We’re going to aggressively find the war stories shaping this region and our people.” In other words, we will rededicate ourselves to our fundamental sense of purpose—a necessary first step on the road to restoring the daily newspaper as our primary source of in-depth investigation, analysis, and reporting. I hope the corporate bean-counters will allow him to fulfill this purpose.

We live in difficult times. Some would say we live in a time of darkness—a time of insanity. Psychologist Val Farmer wrote in The Forum on March 16, 2007: “Despite all this new knowledge, the world is becoming more aimless and antisocial.”

Ernest Becker wrote: “If everybody lives roughly the same lies about the same things, there is no one to call them liars. They jointly establish their own sanity and call themselves normal” When it treats truth and lies the same, the media joined in the dysfunction of the times and became part of it. Their neutrality helps only the perpetrators of lies, never the victims of lies.

Our civilization faces grave challenges. The torment and tragedies of celebrities like Britney Spears and Anna Nicole Smith serve as dark entertainment for millions and divert us from more serious issues that beg our attention. Great leaders seem harder and harder to find at all levels. Arrogant incompetence seems a pattern in leadership from top to bottom. “It’s all about me” is the norm for many. Many professionals and many of our institutions—far away and close to home—are arrogant, mediocre, and travel down slippery slopes of unethical behavior.

As good people struggle and find it harder and harder to do good work and to do the right thing, has it ever been more important to our community for newspapers and the media in general to again become bold truth tellers?

Our nation and all of our institutions cry for renewal. Many seem clueless of their slide away from their values. Without consciousness there can be no values and newspapers can illuminate our values for us to compare our behavior to. Newspapers can lead the way and provoke change in others.

Alexis De Tocqueville wrote about newspapers: “We should underrate their importance if we thought they just guaranteed liberty; they maintain civilization.”

I say “bravo” to Mr. Von Pinnon and encourage him to extend this commitment beyond the war in Iraq to the actions of all institutions: law, family, religion, industry, education, and government with emphasis on local and regional skepticism, questioning, and reporting. We need the truth whether we like it or not.