"Everything can be taken from man but one thing: the last of human freedoms
to choose one's own attitude in any set of circumstances, to choose one's own way."

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Good morning, and I hope you are finding your way in this new year and new decade. I excused myself from a meeting last night because my travel and meeting schedule was to take me away from home one too many evenings this week. I regret that my usual "dutiful" self usually goes to such meeting because, well, because I said I would. However, the evening at home with my wife was quiet and lovely and I'm much happier having spent the evening with her. I was reminded too of the words of a friend and teacher of mine, Rabbi Dr. Robert Daum at a university convocation address some years ago. Although a couple of his references are linked to then contemporary issues, his point is clear for all leaders, and so here is Robert's text from that convocation in full, and I note his brilliant brevity:

"Robert Alter and other biblical scholars have noted that there are a number of sophisticated literary devices employed within biblical narratives. Knowing how these devices work can deeply enrich our reading of a biblical text. One example will suffice: The first words uttered by a character in a particular scene or in a whole narrative are often very significant. The first question posed by God to humankind after the first humans have tasted the “forbidden fruit” characterizes in a fundamental way the relationship between God and humankind. The question consists of a single word in Hebrew, although (not surprisingly!) it requires three words in English translation. The question is “Where are you?” or, in Hebrew, Ayeka? [Genesis 3:9] It is a question posed to the core of our being by the One who sees us for who and what we are, and it remains unanswered.

Where are you  while some leaders in our society, whether out of ignorance or cynical machinations, spread the lie that homosexual priests are more likely to molest children than heterosexual priests? Where are you  while some analysts split hairs over which civilians it is acceptable to attack, and which civilians it is not? Where are you  when, in our own communities, mosques are defaced, synagogues receive bomb-threats, and Sikh Temples are desecrated by thugs? Where are you  when some in our province propose to subject to a majority vote the constitutional rights of our First Nations minority? And where were we all  when women were disappearing one by one from the streets of the Downtown Eastside?

The question reverberates not only in the social arena, but also closer to home. Where are you in the development of your own spiritual practice? Where are you in the task of theological reflection and construction? Where are you in your lifelong relationship with the sacred texts of Scripture? What new insights have you contributed to the tradition transmitted to you by your teachers? And, as you faithfully prepare to head out to your third or fourth meeting of the week, where are you in the upbringing of your own children? Where are you in your relationship with your life partner, in the blessing of sharing life’s pains and joys with your own family?

“Where are you?” Ayeka? It is the first question that we were asked when we came into this world, and it is the last question that we will be asked when it is our time to leave this world. May our lives constitute a response worthy of the question and worthy of the Questioner.""


Good morning and Happy New Year!

Welcome to a new volume of Leadership Notes. And welcome to some new people who have joined our ranks. I hope you'll find these short weekly blogs inspirational and useful in your practice of leading people, (including yourself).

In my own practice I've learned to use a word as a guide for the year; last year's word was 'hope.' This year it is 'creativity.' And of course that has got me wondering, what do we mean by creativity? In the September 28 issue of Leadership Notes (see www.alisdairsmith.com) I mentioned a conversation I had with singer/songwriter Beth Neilson Chapman about creativity. She said, "Creativity is waiting patiently for the noise in your mind to quiet down." I think that Beth is on to something, that we need to take the time to be creative, to consciously make room for creativity in our lives. And I'm convinced that we live in a world that is constantly creating and recreating and we are a dynamic part of that process. It's not just those of us who can write songs or draw portraits, it's all of us, wired to create and recreate constantly. We need though to be consciously open to it.

This year I hope that you are consciously open to creativity, giving spark to new ideas, new life and new and renewed possibilities. This year I hope that you give and receive creativity towards abundance and life for all. And I hope that this year you give space for someone on your team to try something new for their own sake.

To a happy New Year for all people…


Happy Holidays and I hope that this time of year finds you hale, hearty and spending time with the people you love.


The celebration of Christmas is relatively 'new' in the Christian calendar, not appearing as a regular holy day until the 4th or even 5th century of the common era. The date of December 25 of course was chosen to build on an established celebration of the Roman world celebrating the winter solsitice, each day after December 25 (December 21 today) gets steadily brighter. The major feast in the Christian Calendar was and is Easter. Christmas though has taken a life of its own of course in the last century or so, fuelled by capitalism and consumerism. Even the image of the beloved Santa Claus (based mergers of ideas around Saint Nicholas ca 270 - 346 CE, the German god Odin from before the 6th century CE, and the 18th century English Father Christmas) is from an ad for Coca Cola in 1931.


And for many, many people, the "spirit of Christmas" is one of darkness and depression as the expectations of a society based on happiness accrued through consipicuous consumption take their toll. Perhaps as leaders we might recognize that happiness is not gained through the consumption of goods, or acquiring wealth, but through the unconditional giving of love. In large part that is what the Christmas story is all about. In the end it is about loving each other unconditionally as a man named Joseph did when his girlfriend told him she was pregnant, and he knew he was not the father. The world is filled tyranny, and poverty, and for most of us, there is no room at the inn. And at the same time, abundant and unconditional love and the possibility of change for the positive are born, but not in the front rooms, or the confortable rooms of our lives, but in the mangers of our lives. The real opportunities to make a difference in and for the world are not found in the corridors of power, but in the margins, in the hills with the shepherds. And that such revolutionary change requires courage, and so we can take the message of "Fear Not" to heart.


And that is my hope for us all this holy season, fear not. Amidst the darkness, life and light exist and are emerging even now.


This is the last Leadership Notes for 2009. I'll be on a family vacation next week, and will resume our dialogue the week of January 4, 2010.


Peace on earth, good will to all!

Good morning to you all, and my apologies for sending this off so late this week. I have been teaching over the last three days, and sick with the flu, so all lof my energy has been spent on the teaching.

I had an interesting evening last Sunday, preaching at the ordination of a friend. I was speaking about service and mentioned the work of American Healthcare reformner and thinker Rachel Remen, who I have mentioned in a previous Leadership Notes,  (check out http://www.alisdairsmith.com under Leadership Notes "Happy New Year") And then teaching this week, a student was talking about "Servant Leadership" and I was reminded once again of the importance of "service." Always one to pay attention to connections like that,  here's what I said in part on Sunday evening at the ordination:
"As Servant Leaders, we are reminded of the important work of Rachel Remen, an American healthcare reformer, thinker and author. Remen notes that for many in our culture, helping, fixing and serving are synonymous. She helps us understand the important distinctions between these three words as she writes, “service rests on the basic premise that the nature of life is sacred, that life is a holy mystery which has an unknown purpose. When we serve, we know that we belong to life and to that purpose. Fundamentally, helping, fixing and service are ways of seeing life. When you help you see life as weak, when you fix, you see life as broken. When you serve, you see life as whole.” 
In our work as leaders there those who need our help. There are things that need to be fixed. Our focus though, is to serve the good in our people. The question is not then how can I help, or what needs fixing, but how best can I serve the good in this person, and in doing and being so, make the relationship, the workplace and our communities healthier places for all of us.
I hope that your week is filled with service.

I've been thinking a lot over the past couple of days about grief.  Our society (grossly generalized) seems to want to avoid grief, or keep it as short as possible. We're supposed to be happy, smiling all the time, our hearts filled with joy, just like on the TV commercials. And grief just
seems so, well, sad, and therefore somehow bad.

I submit that often our role as a leader, is to help a person or a group of people through a  very sad time, like grief. A fundamental challenge for us is our own response to sadness. For example, for many of us, anothers' tears make us feel uncomfortable, and so we respond with requests like "don't cry", or "oh no, no tears," and other similar lines. This is
especially true of men, but is also evident for some women in the workplace: "never let them see you cry", or "crying shows that you're weak."

Crying is an entirely appropriate response to events that cause grief and sadness. Not crying is not healthy in such instances. That said, when we cry as leaders, the people we are leading will more often than not want to look after us, get focused on how to make it better for us, or otherwise try to help, and then not be paying attention to the content of our message, or actions.

We're left in a quandary, a healthy response to grief is to cry, and crying can send unintended messages to our team.  My own experience, and the teachings of any one of my teachers has taught me the following, when leading when people are grieving. First, don't just do something, sit there. More often than not, the person simply needs the safety and security of your presence in which to cry, and trying to "make it better" often makes the person feel embarrassed and therefore worse. Second, if you have to deliver sad news, if at all possible, cry yourself before hand, ideally with a confidante close by, who can just sit with you. By crying before hand, you'll probably be able to deliver the news without crying. And if you do cry, do not apologize, take a few deep breaths and keep going, your credibility will be intact, and your team will be more likely to hear your message if you just keep going without the apology. And thirdly, recognize that people's responses to crying have much more to do with their own stuff, than to what's happening for you. Be true to yourself, if you want to cry, cry, it's what we do.

Have a full week, good and bad, happy and sad, and see the health in that balance.

Good morning all! I hope this finds you passionate about your work and the difference you make in the world.

It has been a most interesting last 10 days or so, as I have wrestled with technological hiccups; starting 10 days or so ago with a virus that attacked my computer, then the good folks in IT at CUSource migrating us all to Outlook -- my blackberry had to be 'wiped' in order to accomplish this so I lost some of my addresses. I was reflecting through the adventure of how much of an immigrant I really am in the land of technology! (Picking up on last week's notes)

And then I began to think of how fortunate I am to be able to use my voice, to express myself, to speak my truth to so many people through technology. As much as I am an immigrant, I am wealthy enough to be able to afford the technology to express myself to a wider audience than most people on the planet. And the majority of us living in the Western world are so enhanced.

From a leadership perspective an interesting question gets raised; if I am able to speak, to express myself, to have a voice enhanced and amplified through technology, what am I saying, who am I being? All of us with leadership roles are given a certain place of honour on the dias, people listen to us to varying degrees. What we say and who we are as we say it is very important. There is that poignant story of Henry II and his friend Thomas a Beckett, who Henry had made Archbishop of Canterbury. Their friendship strained by political intrigue, Henry, drunk and melancholy cried out, "who will rid me of this meddlesome priest!" Two of his knights, thinking they were doing the King a favour, rode for Canterbury and killed Beckett. The King was not pleased, but learned an important lesson, be careful what you say, it may get done for you.

My hope for each of this week is that we have an opportunity to reflect and then to speak up, and in doing so, make a difference for us, for our team , for our organization and for our time and place.