Pope Francis-Style Leadership

Even though I’ve been an atheist most of my life (now, spiritual), I’ve been glued to the coverage about Pope Francis’ visit to the US. This 78-year old man has maintained a grueling schedule but continues to light up every time he greets his flock. In contrast, I couldn’t help noticing that when doing the handshake and photo op, Francis seems to fade. His preference for the common man over power and influence is no act, folks.

This genuine humility and concern for the common man almost makes me want to join a church for the first time in my life. Apparently, I am not alone in terms of the secular appeal of the Pope; 63% of people with “no religion” approve of Francis.  At a worldwide 70% approval rating, this Pope seems to have captured the goodwill and attention of the world. Though it is unclear whether Francis’ popularity will reverse the decline in the Catholic population, polls have shown that the strength of affiliation among current Catholics is significantly higher than during the pre-Francis reigns. He also has stabilized the retention rate for Catholics which has been declining for 4 decades (see this article for more information).

Francis’ universal appeal is noteworthy given that religious differences, even between sects, continue to fuel discord and war across the globe. Other leaders that claim to be guided by their religious beliefs often divide, whereas Francis unites as he espouses Catholic principles.

Francis is a leader unlike any I have seen in my lifetime. Francis is accomplishing what seems to be the impossible: bringing people together from all backgrounds and beliefs. He is deeply authentic: he lives by his values and morals in both word and deed. He is the first leader that makes me believe 100% that he is here for me, even my atheist-leaning self.

Consider Francis as a model for business or politics. What would be the impact of this type of leadership on how employees/customers/voters feel about an organization and their jobs? What would you do for people or organizations that lived by the doctrine that your wellbeing was their first priority? What would our society look like if we genuinely embraced that belief?

Businesses and even our government often operate by a mentality that focus on profit, money, or power

Francis, the Servant Leader

Francis, the Servant Leader

regardless of the cost or consequences to the customer, community, employee or environment. Francis is showing us that an organization can be successful and appealing, even to those outside the target demographic, when it focuses on and prioritizes people and the Earth.

I’m not saying this type of leadership is easy. As much as I would like to emulate Francis, I do not have his purity of heart. I may not wear the Gucci papal slippers but I’d at least try them on. Dine with Obama and Nancy Pelosi? For sure! However, I can learn as much as I can from this extraordinary leader and find my own way of living by his message.

The Pope has been ending his speeches with, “if you are not a believer, wish me well.” Francis, I wish you well, am cheering for you, and will do all that I can to follow your example of leading with love and authenticity.

Letting Go and Forgiveness

In Anatomy of Peace and Leadership and Self-Deception, the Arbinger Institute describes the process by which we unknowingly contribute to relationship problems. They describe it as the Problem We Cannot See. By becoming aware and alive to that contribution to conflict, Arbinger says, we can put an end to the collusion and beliefs that keeps conflict alive.

Arbinger does not use the word forgiveness in this process, yet if we look up the word forgive, the Merriam-Webster.com dictionary defines it as to stop feeling anger toward (something) or about (something).   Arbinger helps us to let go of feelings of anger but also entitlement, superiority, resentment, depression, or envy by increasing our awareness of and owning our own role in a conflict or relationship dysfunction.   Therefore, this ongoing and lifelong process of letting go is so much larger than forgiveness since we are releasing many feelings beyond anger. We replace resistance to reality and others with acceptance.   As we see how pervasive the resistance mindset is throughout our day, self-acceptance also becomes required to make this important and ongoing change.

Forgiveness is a difficult process. It is not solely driven by our cognition: understanding the benefits of or wanting to forgive are simply insufficient to release those feelings of anger, contempt or resentment. In my own experience, I believe that forgiving others for their faults or mistakes is really the same as forgiving myself since I share the same struggles and challenges as everyone else. Hating someone else’s controlling, compulsive or condescending nature means that I hate my own; accepting their humanity (imperfection) requires that I accept my own.

One of my favorite quotes is from Suzanne Sommers: “Forgiveness is a gift you give to yourself.” Imagine all those negative emotions that accompany being the Problem We Cannot See. It’s like Christmastime, folks, all year round.

The Past Is Not What You Think

Remember that old game of telephone where a message gets passed from person to person and comes out bizarrely different at the other end? Our memory is just like that.   Our memories mutate over time because each time that we access our memory, we are actually accessing our last memory, not the original event.

I haven’t looked for the data that shows that each mutation is influenced by our opinions, focus and biases, but I wouldn’t be surprised if that were the case.

I’m as certain as the next gal that my memory of the past is pretty accurate. Yet I keep proving myself wrong.   I can recall at least one instance where I wondered if I had done X, and searched my memory banks for that action. After several repetitions of that, I was pretty sure that I had done X (I could then visualize it) only to realize later that I had completely fabricated that memory.

Maybe this is the definition of crazy.

A more concrete example has to do with my journal. I don’t tend to like to read back on previous entries….ewwww…. but on occasion I do. Sometimes I am frankly appalled by the difference between what I wrote versus my memory of that event. Though that entry is a snapshot in time, and my memory is perhaps focused on a slightly different moment in time, it still does not quite explain the considerably rosier recollection of the “me” in my head compared to what I wrote in my journal.  I can’t even accuse someone else of twisting the facts or misremembering.

The recurring theme in this repertoire of life lessons has to do with certainty. I have less and less of it as I age, which given how opinionated and certain I have been most of my life, is probably a very good thing.   The less certain I am, the less judgmental and controlling I need to be, and thus more open to other ideas and realities.

You may not agree that we should operate with less certainty. But trust me…???

The Work Double-Standard

Research shows that we are all hypocrites.   In our personal lives it’s easy to detect our hypocrisy any time we criticize another.   At work, our hypocrisy may look a little different, but appears to occur with both employers and employees.

Employers may:

  • Expect loyalty but downsize you in a heartbeat
  • Expect you to do whatever it takes to get the job done but not provide the training/resources to do that job right.
  • Expect you to be on time in the AM but don’t notice if you work overtime. Oh and by the way, you better make sure you report your annual leave whenever you need a few hours off.
  • Expect your hardest and best work which may not be recognized or rewarded. However, your mistakes will be pointed out immediately.
  • Expect you to have a good attitude even if they ignore/complain/criticize the organization or its employees.
  • Have unrealistic expectations then get frustrated when morale is down.
  • Ask you to take on additional duties or responsibility but then tell you that you haven’t earned a raise, new title or promotion.
  • Tell you there isn’t money for raises/bonuses or for the supplies/new position that is needed…but there’s plenty of money when it comes to their own raise, bonus or needed resources.
  • Expect you to be open to constructive criticism and improvement while ignoring their own.
  • Complain about the laziness or incompetence of an employee, but when that person quits, divide her job into two positions.
  • Avoid promoting from within citing a lack of qualified applicants, but also fail to groom people for leadership positions.
  • Complain that employees don’t appreciate their job but rarely thank the employees when they do a good job.
  • Complain about a situation that they’ve either created or have the power to change.
  • Expect employees to make sacrifices for the organization but won’t go out of their way to help the employee.
  • Have contempt for the employees but want to be treated with respect.
  • Criticize what’s actually good practice for productivity (taking breaks, naps and socializing with co-workers), while ignoring real issues (bullying, harassment, poor fiscal management, poor leadership/management skills, safety issues, toxic employees).

Employees are guilty too. They may:

  • Complain about the status quo but not support the change that does happen, take action to create change, or support the change efforts of others.
  • Hate their job but then are surprised if they get either fired or a poor evaluation.
  • Treat continued employment, raise or bonus as an entitlement, but quality work as optional.
  • Want job security but will leave the minute a better job is available.
  • Want thanks, praise and recognition without ever thanking or recognizing their employer.
  • Expect the job to be not too demanding but also expect a raise or promotion.
  • Complain that the boss doesn’t understand what they do but also complain about things they don’t understand.
  • Gripe about the lack of communication but not read organizational emails and newsletters.
  • Have contempt for the organization or boss but want to be treated with respect.

In other words, pointing your finger at work is really not different from your personal life.   Before you open your mouth to complain about someone else, consider how you might be similarly guilty. It’s a hypocrisy-busting exercise that can produce personal insights and a better attitude, though not as fun as complaining.  I guess you’ll have to settle for socializing by the water cooler.

Things I Don’t Understand

I often write my blogs about things I don’t understand. The thing I probably understand the least are matters related to spirituality, religion and the divine. I have called myself an atheist for most of my life, yet the topic has been of great interest to me lately. I sense that this is an important subject, but my scientific brain just cannot wrap itself around it.

I was somewhat glad/nervous that my masters program discussed spirituality and religion as a topic that is becoming less taboo among researchers. Science shows us that spirituality and religion are overall good for individual and community wellbeing (e.g., Iftzan, 2013) and that humans are spiritual beings by nature. I confess that I was a little disappointed that I couldn’t dismiss the subject outright, and that at some point I have to confront my ambivalence about being a spiritual creature.

The topic engaged me enough to where I felt the need to focus my capstone on finding your calling, a topic at the secular interface of religion. A summary of the capstone is now a chapter in a book called, Being Called. Scientific, Secular, and Sacred Perspectives, which addresses the emerging knowledge on callings.

Fortunately for me, Chris has been my spiritual interpreter and guide, or I would not have even been able to even conceptualize the topic. His definition of being spiritual is being open to the concept that there may be forces that are beyond our comprehension or detection. The book refers to spirituality as “one’s personal relationship to transcendent realities” whereas religion has more to do with spirituality within the context of an organization and its traditions (p. 47).

That sense of spirituality and self-transcendence implies a connection to something greater, thus providing meaning and purpose. That sense of spirituality and connection, whether to yourself, forms of human expression, other people, nature, or the divine, help us to be successful and thrive. The VIA and Gallup strengths assessments identify those personal qualities, called spirituality and connectedness, respectively. According to the Gallup organization, people with connectedness have “faith in the links between all things. They believe there are few coincidences and that almost every event has a reason.“

That need for connection and meaning appears universal, even outside the context of religion and spirituality. Brene Brown, author of Daring Greatly, describes connection as being comprised of love and belonging and  a source of purpose and meaning.  According to Brown, fear of losing connection is the essence of shame, an emotion that we all feel on some level. Those that are particularly resilient to shame, the Wholehearted, tend to be high in spirituality.   Though spirituality can include connection to nature or God, Brown limits her discussion to connection with and feeling seen, heard and valued by others.

Finding and fostering meaning through connections is something we all can do, regardless of whether we buy into notions of self-transcendence and ourselves as spiritual beings.   Valuing relationships, nature and our natural world, truth, peace and justice are spiritual qualities.   Grow them. Nurture them. Consider expanding your sense of connection to the wider world or universe. This is your spiritual practice; it may have benefits beyond your comprehension.

Oh, The Academic Life!

Really, I do love my job.   It’s interesting, challenging and I feel I have a positive impact on others. And don’t forget the 10 hour work weeks accompanied by the 6 figure salary.

Right. And I have a bridge in Alaska I want to sell you.

This does seem to be the impression by much of the public regarding the life of an academic.   That impression seems to have come from articles written by some of our own, so clearly, this luxurious and entitled lifestyle seems to be true for some of us. Indeed, it’s possible that a tenured professor can pretty much “coast” if he or she wishes, doing only the absolute minimum. While that may not be as easy to do in the private or government sector, we also all know people who are actively disengaged: they are unmotivated and actually contemptuous of the organization and the efforts of the people within. Higher ed is no different, and this situation is only further aggravated when that disengaged person cannot be fired and happens to be able to write eloquent pieces about how we’re fleecing the public.

I have worked in higher ed for the last 22 years, and I have known actively disengaged, tenured professors but they’re all gone (though I’m sure they still exist as they do in every industry). Everyone I know is working hard to do the best possible job they can. Even someone who “only” teaches 9 hours per week has these hidden duties:

  1. Preparation – A good teacher refreshes their material each year, whether:

A) The course content

B) Teaching method

C) Teaching technology

D) More than one of the above

Some of my course content stays pretty constant, but others are changing constantly.

  1. Assessment – Someone has to grade the darn assignments, right? Even disengaged faculty have to do grading else an uprising from the students. Usually we have teaching assistants helping out with the larger courses. For example, our Pharmacy program has 140 students per class, so this is where our assistants are invaluable. If you have assistants, they have to also be supervised and managed, so that’s not necessarily a cake-walk either.
  2. Course and student management –   Those syllabi, assignments and grades don’t get calculated and posted on their own, and sometimes students actually want to talk to the professor. When your class is 140, this can get demanding.
  3. Curriculum/program development and management – These courses are part of a larger curriculum and program. The demands for course, curriculum and program assessment and approval have been steadily increasing to the point I feels sometimes we spend just as much time assessing ourselves as we do our students. Any change to curriculum has to be approved by the respective curriculum committee, then approved by a university committee staffed by – you guessed it – faculty. And if you want to create a new program? It’s a huge effort mired in bureaucracy/oversight.
  4. Student affairs – This is a huge area that involves admissions, promotion, recruiting, student academic and conduct issues, extracurricular activities, career advising, graduation, and student development including mentoring and academic/professional advising. Though staff do much of the thankless work, guess who also needs to be involved, oftentimes in leadership roles? Yes, you got it.
  5. Faculty affairs – There’s this whole contingent on campus that have their own needs, darn it! Those needs are met by faculty and administration as well since, inexplicably, the students won’t do it for us. For some reason, we need management, recruiting, training, development, promotion and retention, and we have this other little thing called….
  6. Research and scholarly activity – Learning and discovery go hand in hand. Teachers are only as good as the material they learn and discover, which is the essence of research and scholarship. I suppose there are some that have it pretty easy – they can pretty much just turn out a book or two by working a couple of hours per day. After all, anyone can pretty much get a publisher to invest thousands on printing a book these days, right? And oh, self-published books just don’t count in academia, no offense to those who have self-published. It’s just how it is here.
  7. Graduate education – Masters and doctoral programs may not have as much classroom time or visibility as an undergraduate program. However, these students are much like scientific apprentices. They learn at the side of the faculty how to be the next generation of scholars. This is a time-intensive process as you can imagine, as transitioning from an undergraduate to an independent-thinking scientist takes a lot of time and effort by the faculty (and the student).
  8. Miscellaneous campus activities – We have this secret responsibility on campus, which is called service. For our clinical faculty, that service means their medical, pharmacy or nursing practice. Again, these faculty have their own form of professional upkeep and innovation in order to stay competent and leaders in their field. We also are required to participate in student and faculty affairs-related service as many of those tasks must have faculty involvement and often leadership. Other priorities on campus such as diversity and inclusion, library, staff and administrator search committees, strategic planning, fundraising, technology, campus safety, and culture and climate issues also require faculty participation, oversight, attention, and often leadership. This only accounts for service within the university. Most of us are also members of professional organizations which we help lead and run.

Most faculty do all of this working far more than 40 hours per week. Some are only getting paid 9 months per year. Yeah, those faculty lounging by the pool in the summer are not getting paid. How would you like a job that refuses to pay you 3 months per year? Many of those faculty are still working during the summer, even without pay, on their research. What you do not see is them leaving the pool to go work on the computer all night, without compensation.

And with all this, most faculty make far less than their counterparts in the private sector.   My salary, if I were working in industry for these past 20 years, would probably be at least 50% higher by now. I don’t do this job because I can lounge by the pool (though I do have the option of working by the pool sometimes) but because I love the flexibility of the job, the challenge of doing research and scholarship, and the opportunity to really make an impact on the lives of young people or our profession.

If you compare us to for-profit colleges, we provide the education along with research/scholarship and a vibrant campus culture for the same or lower cost as the for-profit schools. So I think we’re doing pretty well.

I’m not asking that you view us as saints or martyrs. We’re not. We work hard doing the job we love and feel privileged to do. We make a contribution to society that is often ignored or misaligned until an amazing scientific discovery or technological advance emanates. At that point, no one says, “oh, I’m glad we’re investing in higher ed.” That discovery does not come out of a vacuum. It comes because of society’s investment in knowledge and discovery. Isn’t that what we’re here to do and enable?