Sunday, May 25, 2008

In admiration of .... our children

I wonder how often we sit down and actually assess the incredible miracles that are represented by our children. When we make a conscious effort to reflect upon the gifts and talents of our children, we realize all the more how incredible they really are.

Today, I found myself alone at one point and being totally immersed in gratitude for all my children, especially today for my oldest. I'm going to embarrass him right now with a public indulgence of what he means to me.

My son, Harry (aka Spud):

  1. Amazed doctors during his delivery, by smiling at me, reaching up to me and holding my pinky finger as we walked from the delivery room to the nursery room. The staff had never seen a child so aware of himself at birth.
  2. Filled me with such amazement in his first three years with his vocabulary and intelligence. At the age of three, he asked his pre-school teacher if she knew what a cornucopia was and when she indicated she didn't know, spelled it for her and explained that it meant "horn of plenty".
  3. Choked me with pride as I filmed him climbing onto the bus for his first day of school.
  4. Provided all of us with a great laugh one day during a soccer game when, after the play had moved into the opponent's zone, left Spud back by his goal, casually cart wheeling up the field without a care in the world and oblivious to the game.
  5. Loved bedtime stories. I often worked on my stamp collection by his bed at night until he fell asleep.
  6. Was, from an early age, incredibly talented at beating any computer game out there. Mario Kart, Bomberman and 1080 were by far our favorites to play together and we sure got our money's worth out of them. He liked to fall asleep to the soundtracks to some of these games, especially the soundtrack to Zelda. When I hear the music now, it takes me back instantly to his youth.
  7. Loved sitting with me to watch Sponge Bob Squarepants, Ren and Stimpy and other shows like them on TV.
  8. Touched my heart deeply when one of his early pieces of art in school was transferred to a "baseball cap for Daddy". I still have the cap and the original piece of art has a place of honor on my wall. The tools he bought for me at a school-sponsored Christmas bazaar, that came in a little car-shaped carrying case and for which he was so proud of finding, are something I see everyday in my garage, as is the wooden saw he bought for me that says "Daddy's Workshop".
  9. Blew my mind when he created his first website at the age of seven. I still have the website and I'm thinking of posting it on this website for fun.
  10. Amazes me now with his incredible grasp of the arts, including music, computer-driven art, website development, etc. He is so much more adept at these things than I ever was.
  11. Made me feel so proud when I heard what his year-end high school test results were this year, in some cases walking in cold and scoring the highest score in the school's history. His intelligence far outstrips his fathers'.
  12. Impresses me that at the age of 17, feels so comfortable traveling into New York City and exploring it on his own. When I was 17, I was still getting used to having the freedom of exploring a town of 100,000.
  13. Has experienced so much in his 17 years, having collected far more incredible experiences than I did by the time I was 17. These events, including 9/11 as well as many positive ones, have given him far greater life experience than I had by the time I was 25! I stand in amazement when I think what such life experiences will produce in his adult life.
  14. Was such a great little guy to play football catch in the street with when he was eight years old.
  15. Was an incredible stuntman, always setting up ramps to jump with his bicycle. He was never seriously hurt.
  16. Is incredibly creative in fashion, including the many interesting colors he has worn his hair. I can only faintly remember having hair. :-)
  17. Is more plugged into his passions at the age of 17 then I was when I was 30.
  18. Was considered to teach first year university students how to program websites and was invited to maintain his school's website - when he was twelve. I would have been petrified.
  19. Has traveled internationally by himself at the age of 15. I didn't do that until I was 24.
  20. Brought tears of joy and pride to my eyes when, at the age of 11, attended a summer theater program and then performed Broadway songs during the shows that followed. I wouldn't have had the courage (and definitely didn't have the talent) at such an age.
  21. Knows more uses of technology than his father - and his father does it for a living.
  22. Knows more about what he wants to do in life then I did at his age.

There is so much more I could write. Your gifts to me have been unlimited, the memories to date are treasured in my heart and my growth because of you being in my life is immeasurable. Because of you, I have discovered strengths I never thought I had and I have learned about parts of me that were in desperate need for growth. That growth continues to this day and will until my final days. As I wrote to my father once in a Father's Day card, I didn't know what it was to be a father until I became one.

I am very proud of you, Spud. I am amazed at your talent, blown away by your knowledge and stand in awe at your potential. You are a dream child and I am proud to be your dad.

Thank you for making me a better person and for bringing joy and pride to my life.



Saturday, May 24, 2008

Service and Servanthood

Service - what does it really mean? To many, it means the service we receive, whether it's the service at the local coffee shop, the quality of the customer service we receive during a telephone call, how well we are treated at the local auto dealer, etc.

How often do we think about it from the other side as in, how well do I provide service to others? Do I provide the level of service expected of me as a member of my family, my community, my church, my company or client, my country and of course, the earth itself? How well do I serve others?

The real question comes down to this. How much humility do I really have and is my ego small enough to allow me to serve those around me with a spirit of total giving and total commitment. As a leader, does my ego call me to lord over those who work for me or with me or is my humility more powerful than my ego, allowing me to serve even those I lead, clearing obstacles for them and providing ways for them to achieve ultimate satisfaction, contribution and growth. When I experience situations where my life experience has clearly provided me with more knowledge of a particular situation than the people I am serving (or I think it has), how gentle am I in sharing knowledge and constructive criticism? What's winning the fight - my humility or my ego?

I believe we have all been in moments when we appeared to be the lesser equipped and have born the sting of rebuke, sarcasm or criticism as the other person exerts ego-based influence over us. Instead of learning from the pain of this sting, we are quick to do the same thing when we have the upper-hand, both failing to learn a better way of handling the situation while passing on the sting to someone who will in turn, pass it on to someone else. Merely thinking the thought is as bad as committing the deed, as our body language and actions betray our thoughts as thoroughly as if we had spoken the demeaning thought we had considered. In addition, thinking such thoughts does not provide us with the opportunity to grow our humility and shrink our ego.

We have such high expectations of the world, but are we holding ourselves up to the same expectations? Many of us hold ourselves to outrageous levels of expectations on many levels, but how well are we doing as servants of the world?

Being a servant to the world does not mean being a doormat or a martyr to the whim of every person who would crush us as they execute towards their own goals. It means knowing when to hold ego in check, recognizing that none of us are perfect and that we need each other for growth, learning and success (however we measure it).

Larry Spears captures the spirit of servanthood and servant leadership perfectly in these 10 precepts:

  1. Listening receptively
  2. Acceptance of (and empathy with) others
  3. Foresight and intuition
  4. Awareness and perception
  5. Highly-developed powers of persuasion
  6. Ability to conceptualize and communicate concepts
  7. A healing influence upon people and institutions
  8. Ability to build a sense of community in the workplace
  9. Practice contemplation
  10. Willingness to change.

Ask someone how you rate based on this criteria and you may be delighted or disappointed by how well you score.

As John C. Maxwell notes:

  1. Leadership is getting people to help you when they are not obligated to do so.
  2. True leadership must be for the benefit of the followers, not to enrich the leader.

Since servant leadership is by far the most effective form of leadership and since many of today's leadership experts consider a leader as anyone who exerts influence (which qualifies us all, in the form of parent, guardian, sibling, mentor, employer, volunteer, friend, spiritual leader, elected leader, etc.), I ask one simple question:

Are we serving others or are we expecting to be served?

Our personal philosophy regarding this question determines the quality of our life, the quality of the lives around us and the legacy that each of us leaves for others to muse upon.

Yours in service,