On Leadership

Over the course of my life, I have developed a pretty clear idea of what constitutes leadership. These ideas have come about because I have been fortunate enough to work with multiple leaders who have demonstrated these qualities and because I have been able to take these qualities out for a spin. Lately, the opportunity to consider what it means to be a leader has arisen because of events at work and, much more prominently, because of events within an organization of which I am a member. I’d like to take this opportunity to share my thoughts on leadership.

First, I believe that a leader should, through his/her own behavior, project the behavior that he wants coming from the people s/he is leading. A leader is not hypocritical. If you are a leader and you want people to take you seriously, your ethos must not be one of do as I say and not as I do, but rather see what I’m doing? do that, too. Behavior modeling helps engender respect from the people you seek to lead and facilitates the strengthening of relationships between the group.

I believe that a leader communicates well. By this, I do not necessarily mean that a leader communicates using  proper grammar and with the correct use of the Oxford comma, but rather that a leader communicates with people in a timely manner. Why? I will speak from experience on this. When a leader, without warning, ceases communication and does not respond to messages or phone calls, it leaves other people to wonder what is going on. Is this leader sick? Is this leader ignoring my requests for communication? A vacuum in communication creates a vacuum in information – and it is my sincere belief that a vacuum will create its own information in the absence of other information. These rumors – the false information that appears in a vacuum – can come around to destroy the efficacy of a leader’s position and make s/he an ineffective leader and engenders distrust.

I believe that a leader is visionary, but also a good manager. It is critical to set goals for organizational growth and change, as a good leader should, but equally critical is managing that growth through the delegation of leadership and tasks. A leader needs to communicate a clearly defined vision to his organization and delegates authority to the people around him/her to help bring that vision to life. As the process comes along, a leader must follow up and work with the people he’s empowered to ensure that the vision is coming to life.

I believe a leader takes responsibility for his/her actions. A leader receives criticism, positive and negative, and makes progress. If a leader doesn’t want to commit or isn’t prepared to commit to a promise of change, then promise to change isn’t made and that is communicated to the team. A leader does not promise to improve and immediately neglects that promise. A leader takes the concerns of the people around him/her seriously.

Lastly, a leader knows when to call it a day. There is a season for everything under the sun. A leader knows when the seasons have come and gone and when it’s time to retire for the winter so that another may plow the fields and plants the seeds for success come the spring.

These are all characteristics that I try to embody, but when a leader working with you doesn’t share those characteristics, it is easy to get bogged down in doing that person’s work when it is evident that it isn’t being done. I have been promised on multiple occasions that this leader would improve, and sometimes there is some improvement, and other times it’s just an outright lie that this leader says to stave off any further difficult conversation.

True leadership – a leadership that embodies vision and inspiration – requires tremendous amounts of self-insight. For those of you who know me, that self-insight and careful reflection can either be something that comes naturally or something that requires practice and training. I have found it to be an endeavor worth doing, though, because I wish to see a world that is created with my help. I believe that we all have our part to create a world of our own vision and to work with others to develop a shared vision, for we do not live in a vacuum. And to do so, you must lead, you must inspire, and you must show the way. Our lives on this planet, in this universe, are too short and we must do everything in our powers to impart the meaning of our lives on others and to leave our imprint, no matter how or small, to furthering the cause of life on this planet. We must lead so that others may follow and that they may lead. We must know that we are to pass the baton.

The work is hard, but the work is good. May we do good and do it well with the guidance and foresight of good leaders.

-R

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Hey… was I supposed to do something?

Stress has the tendency to make me extraordinarily forgetful. If I’m in the middle of planning an event (or several) I could be wandering around town with a bunch of strings tied to my fingers and have no recollection of how those strings got there or why they were put there.

Oh look, strings tied to my fingers! Now why did they… hmm.

The mental noise that comes along with trying to herd together an office, an event, a household – a life, really – can be a lot and I’ve had to learn to do two things to keep myself from becoming an untethered trainwreck. First, I’ve had to get in the habit of tracking my thoughts in a centralized location. I used to journal to kinda keep track of thoughts and feelings, but lately it has come to serve a more functional purpose: to serve as an aide-memoire with the laundry list of life.

But secondly, and maybe more importantly, I’ve had to be more forgiving of myself in forgetful moments. I used to beat myself up endlessly if I forgot something, compounding the problem through further stressing me out. Instead, I’ll accept that I’ve forgotten something and become more diligent at documenting what must be done. There are periods of time in life where it becomes endless process BS that can get overwhelming, with endless distractions to pull your eye away. It’s easy to get distracted and become forgetful. Hell, sometimes it feels better to be forgetful.

We’re fallible, though, and we make mistakes. We err. We forget. Instead of beating ourselves up, we need to forgive ourselves and rededicate ourselves to not making that mistake again – to being better.

I feel like this is missing in high-pressure situations frequently – where we feel so many people breathing down our backs and seeing a rapidly diminishing clock. It’s easy to get caught up in the pressure and feel even increased pressure and watch the clock go by yet faster! It becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy of failure. And the prophecy ends up being told at a very early stage of the game – when we make the decision to either feel the pressure and make the situation worse or to instead let go a little and breathe.

I’ve begun to breathe more recently. It has made quite the difference. I am still forgetful frequently, but I’m operating on such a wide bandwidth that I forgive myself the forgotten names, the mislaid items, and the missed deadlines. I’ll remember the names, find the items, and get the damned things done. Just let me have a breath.

-Ryan

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2019 – what lieth beyond.

2019 is the year in which I…

  1. get married (again).
  2. turn 35 years old.
  3. take the GRE (again).
  4. apply for graduate school (again)…
    1. … begin graduate school.
  5. embark on new adventures…
    1. … while following some beaten paths, and
    2. … while cutting some new trails.
  6. keep fighting for economic justice.
  7. keep working to empower those without so that they can become those with.

There’s so much to do with really very little time. The prospect of life as a river with its terminus in an ocean is daunting… because everything that gets added into the river helps to accelerate its course. The channel remains the same size, so the volume must move faster that the river doesn’t back up.

And as life barrels onward, we begin to wonder where that ocean is. We wonder how much longer we have before we reach the delta and the alluvial fan. Each day that goes by I try to grasp, in so much vanity,  as trying to cling to the errant pebbles and grasses that populate the riverbed. Learn to play guitar, slow the pace. Pick up piano, slow the pace. Read, read, read, slow the pace. Have a glass of wine, slow the pace.

Stop to smell the roses, slow the pace.

But all vain acts. We all scurry about in our busy lives and it river wends its course; we pray that the oxbow holds and life doesn’t plow a new channel, a shorter course, instead of the slow wendabout. This growing older thing is a real trick of tricks. This life thing? Man, endless sleights of hand.

I understand my dad now more than I ever did . And if you would have told me at the age of 18 that nearly 17 years later that I’d ever understand my dad, then-I would have told you to get out of town. (Fuck right off wasn’t yet in my wheelhouse.)

So, I guess my statement for this post is more of a question. How can we slow down and appreciate the moments when our lives are brimming with you and me and the things we do that push us to move faster and faster? Is the answer to moving quickly slowing down? I’m starting to think slow. Too much of life is spent reacting – and how much do you really remember when you’re just busily reacting to things?

And maybe that’s it. Perhaps the answer is to tune out the noise and distractions, so that you can focus and not be stuck in perpetual reaction. I’ve found that I’m able to be more productive and appreciative of the work that I do when distractions to what I’m trying to do are drowned out. I remember conversations, I remember work, I remember ideas.

May 2019 be productive AF. I’m sure glad I’m not writing about kids eating Tide Pods this year.

-R

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This Has Happened again

I want to write that the last 48 hours have been hard on me. And that would be a true statement. However, it’s been more than the last 48 hours that have taken a toll on me. It’s been every time This Has Happened since the mass murder at Columbine High School and even more so every time This Has Happened since Mr. Trump has become President, replete with typical self-absorbed replies and total lack of sympathy for the people who actually endured loss of family members.

Of course, this time that This Has Happened struck closer to home for me.

While not in Roanoke, it was in relatively nearby Pittsburgh that members of a Jewish faith community – the same faith I’ve adopted – were gunned down for their mere existence. The response on the internet, from the talking heads, and many politicians has been, as per usual, predictable garbage. Thoughts and prayers for everyone involved, complete and utter paralysis of action in trying to address the root issues of hate. My fiancée and I had a fairly heated discussion of the meaning of thoughts and prayers and why people do their declamations of thoughts and prayers every time This Has Happened.

If you’re not aware, I have tired of people getting shot up and murdered for no apparent reason, for reasons bound up in insane levels of bigotry or for reasons where the mentally ill have unreasonable access to weapons capable of inflicting massive harm. I think there are people in power who offer thoughts and prayers on a regular basis, who have the power to *do* something, but don’t. So to say that I’m over thoughts and prayers as a manner of accomplishing something is fairly accurate. In terms of action, if thoughts and prayers were horses, beggars would not only ride, they would rule the world.

As it so happens, I do think that being politically engaged and engaging with people, especially in person, is more effective than thoughts and prayers. I do think that calling your representatives and applying pressure is effective. I do think that shining a light on why your elected officials vote the way they do is effective. And lastly, I do think that stepping up and being the change is effective.

We live in a society. We’re not independent entities floating in space with no impact upon each other. We affect and effect each other through words and acts. Words matter. Things matter. That much I know. When we actually engage and start to work with each other, directly, we see the harm and good to we do to others. There is no avatar to hide yourself behind, like there is on Facebook, for you to belt out in anger at your Representative or scream belligerently at and threaten total strangers. So every time we think about thoughts and prayers when This Happens, maybe we do take a minute to think and pray on it, but it needs to be converted to an action, to a positive good.

After the shootings at Tree of Life synagogue in Pittsburgh, may their memories be for blessings, I sought solace in a prayer book. Although I don’t believe that thoughts and prayers are themselves solutions and substitutes for acts, I do believe in the meditative power of prayer. And I needed to think and to see what sense there was to make in an increasingly senseless world and I came upon two items. One is a quote from Martin Buber and the other is a prayer.

The prayer in question is commonly known as V’Ahavta – you shall love – and is a couple pieces of the Torah cobbled together to make a prayer. The prayer is not what most people normally think of as a prayer, it is more like a reminder. A reminder to love and to be holy. It calls on us to love G-d with all of our hearts, our souls, and strength, to recall the reminders in our life of G-d’s presence, and to honor G-d’s creation.

I’ll wrap up the quote from Martin Buber, as printed in Mishkan T’filah, a Reform Siddur.

“When people come to you for help, do not turn them off with pious words, saying: ‘Have faith and take your troubles to G-d!’ Act instead as if there were no G-d, as though there were only one person in all the world who could help — only yourself.”

Be well and be safe. Vote on November 6th.

-R

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On November 6, 2018, vote for Jennifer Lewis.

Buena Vista is a wonderful and welcoming community on Labor Day for people of all political stripes. The annual parade and forum at Glen Maury Park provide a wonderful opportunity to engage with our elected officials and those who seek our support.

Having heard the Republican candidate for the 6th Congressional District, Delegate Ben Cline, speak, I feel that he is offering one prescription dressed in irony. You see, at the forum, Delegate Cline promised to “fix” Washington – take that for whatever it means – but to operate in the same manner, with the same values, as our outgoing Congressman Bob Goodlatte. Mr. Goodlatte and his party have held Congress for nearly all but 4 years since 1994 and they have held all of the levers of power in Washington since January 2017. It seems to me that according to Delegate Cline, the prescription for healing the patient who continues to ail is the same prescription that has been failing.

We have a choice, come November, to choose better. We have a choice to elect someone who comes at Washington with a fresh voice, not shrouded by years of being lobbied in Richmond. We have a choice, a better option, in Jennifer Lewis. We have the opportunity to elect a candidate with actual mental health worker experience who can provide the expertise in guiding policy for addressing those who need help, including that sticky problem within the debate over guns. We have a candidate who is working daily to talk to people who don’t vote, who aren’t necessarily Democrats, Republicans, or independents, but simply people.

Jennifer Lewis is the best option for Roanoke, the Shenandoah Valley, and the whole of the 6th Congressional District and I wholeheartedly support her.

-Ryan

(This was also submitted as a letter to the Editor of the Roanoke Times.)

Update, September 19, 2018:

The Roanoke Times published this letter to the editor on Wednesday, September 19, 2018.

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Half baked thoughts on belief

I’ve been struggling mentally with something I overheard following the March for Our Lives town hall event that was held at the Lyric theater in Blacksburg last Thursday. Before the event started, there was a group of 5 or 6 people who were wearing black tee-shirts that indicated they were from the Utah Gun Exchange. Their leader, who I managed to get a picture of, was this 40- or 50-something dude with the sides of his head shaved down and a graying quasi-mullet growing there between. Prior to the event, he was being interviewed by a camera crew – a crew I didn’t identify – and an individual fully decked out in Utah Gun Exchange gear was recording the proceeding on his cell phone. It was all super sketchy and I wonder whose propaganda video my person would be appearing in.

Anyway – the event begins and proceeds without issue. As the event continues to unfold, the gentleman with the partial, graying mullet gets up to go to a microphone. As his turn to speak comes up, he repeatedly surrenders his position to speak to other people. That seems strange, doesn’t it? Why would someone who very evidently has an opinion on this, someone who has come all the way out from Utah to make a scene in – of all places – Blacksburg surrender his position over and over again? I’m leaning towards wanting to blame the liberal media or gun control advocates. This is all neither here nor there in the course of what I actually want to talk about.

What I actually want to talk about is something that Mr. Partial Graying Mullet said when speaking with reporters following the event. By the way – super interesting that the media present decided to speak to someone who didn’t even pony up the courage to participate in the forum, right? While speaking with the media, Mr. Part Gray Mull said something so profound, so intense, that it hasn’t been able to get out of my mind. PGM, with a microphone in his face, said – and I’m going to paraphrase, because I don’t remember the exact words – he said, “… even if you don’t believe in the second amendment…”

Even if you don’t believe in the second amendment.

 

we_the_people

It exists in law and physical form – what then requires belief?

Well, there are a lot of things that I believe and a lot of things that I don’t believe. The second amendment doesn’t apply to either because the second amendment is a legal fact. It is exists in the Bill of Rights of the Constitution of the United States of America. This isn’t up for the debate, like G-d or religion. The existence of the second amendment is indisputable fact. Now, I’ve been turning over in my head over and over again why someone would need to harbor belief in something that is and the only thing I can conjure in response is this: he doesn’t actually think his opinion is necessarily valid, so he must couch his opinion as a matter of belief.

You see, I wouldn’t be bothered with writing this if he had merely said, “… even if you don’t agree with the second amendment…” or “… even if you don’t agree with my interpretation of the second amendment…” but instead, he relegated the second amendment to the realm of the untestable hypothesis, where worlds and lives are governed by feeling and driven by the gut. It doesn’t need to be this way. Trying to draw people into believing the second amendment or not believing in it just tribalizes the issue, making clear delineation of us versus them. Belief + us vs them hasn’t generally gone all that well over the course of history. No, we’re not arguing about the existence of the second amendment. If anyone is telling you that liberals don’t believe in the second amendment, that’s simply not true. The second amendment is real and is law.

Now, if he were being honest with his argument and wanted to actually advance the debate, this would be a debate about interpretation, not about belief in. But, and I can’t shake this feeling, I don’t think that Mr. PGM was there with honest intentions. Camera crew in tow with a posse? All the way from Utah? In Blacksburg? Come on. Moreover, local media gave this guy air. Why? All this huffing and puffing about belief or not in something that is as real as my morning coffee seems suspect.

I know this might seem like a pedant’s rant about a word that someone used, but I’m of the mindset that words mean things – especially if those words are used intentionally. And then, regardless of intention, why that word? The word belief confers a certain idea that implies lack of belief makes one a heretic. There are believers and non-believers. There are Beliebers and non-Beliebers. Followers of the faith and heretics.

Anyway, that’s just my take on it.

 

R

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Black Panther thoughts

  1. Women are generally on the right side of history.
  2. Paraphrasing here: “I want to be buried in the ocean with our ancestors who chose death over bondage.” (Can’t remember exactly what was said, but it was incredibly powerful.)
  3. Again, may be some paraphrasing: “In times of crisis, the wise build bridges, the foolish build barriers.” (Good rhetorical use of alliteration.)
  4. Amazing camera work and CGI.
  5. AWESOME cast.
    1. Hearing Martin Freeman with an American accent was a little odd, though.
  6. Overall, exceptional movie and one I look forward to seeing multiple times.
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