Tom’s Blog – The Daily Drivel

Follow the Leader?!?

A few weeks ago I did a video interview with my long time friend Lamar Roth. The video told the story of how Lamar and his company navigated the tragedy of a workplace shooting and has been applying the lessons learned from that to the disruption caused by the current pandemic. Since posting it, along with a couple of short vignettes of key sections, I’ve had over 200 views on the Tenacious Change LLC YouTube channel. I know, that’s not a huge amount but it is about four times more than I had hoped.

It has inspired me to do additional video interviews. I’m in the process of lining them up now and actually do them in late Summer and early Fall. I’ve got three more that I plan to do this year. One is an interview with a young man from Baltimore who works in love, justice, and education. I’m anxious to talk with him about a concept he is defining and writing about as “the work of love.” Another is on community change in the time of the pandemic featuring a colleague from Canada with whom I’ve done considerable work over the past few years. Finally, for now, I’m lining up an interview with a woman who studies “toxic followership.” In her research she interviewed survivors of the Jonestown massacre in an effort to understand more clearly the dynamics of the leader/follower relationship which led to over 900 people taking their own lives.

This week, as I was focusing on all things media related in my work, I discovered that my podcast hosting platform had been inadvertently redirecting people who were trying to find it to a different podcast. Ugh! Hopefully I’ll have that sorted by next week as I’d like to also dive back into podcasting. I have some really good interviews on hand that I need to edit, produce, and upload before I do anymore.

All of this to say…stay tuned.


what if we shouldn’t follow the leader?

Speaking of “toxic followership,” at some point we’ve really got to talk about why it is that people find themselves stuck on following inadequate, inept, and inconceivably bad leaders. (Pretty good alliteration, huh?) You are probably rushing ahead to imagine I’m thinking about Trump here…and I am…but the phenomenon is not unique to Trump. We have seen it time and again: on sports teams; in clubs; in families; in faith communities; in organizations, agencies, and governments; in towns and cities; etc.

First it has to be recognized that every leader has “fans” who would follow them anywhere, even to death. Therefore it is difficult to assert that it rests solely on the shoulders of the person in the leadership role. Some very good, ethical, honorable, and highly effective leaders have such wildly devoted fans who are, really, just too devoted.

It is also true, though, that some lousy, unethical, dishonorable, and incredibly ineffective leaders have such followers. Sometimes that is by accident. The leader may be as amazed and clueless about the existence of such followers as we are. Frankly, they are probably also clueless about just how lousy they are as leaders.

However, sometimes accumulating such die hard followers is by design of some of the worst leaders. These scare me the most. They are leaders who want people to follow their every command. They seem to have an innate ability to latch on to folks who are most susceptible to their brand of “leadership” as control.

Within the larger field of leadership studies there is authentic transformational leadership (usually just known as transformational leadership or simply TL). Transformational leadership emerged through the work of James MacGregor Burns in his 1978 book Leadership. For Burns, his concept of leadership was not based in power over followers but in power with followers to accomplish the goals of both. Transformational leaders use four core strategies that are very positive and follower focused:

  • Attending to the needs of follows and acting as a mentor or coach (Individualized Consideration)
  • Engaging with followers and asking for and receiving their ideas and feedback (Intellectual Stimulation)
  • Articulating a vision to followers that is appealing and inspiring (Inspirational Motivation)
  • Being a role model with and for the kind of behavior that instills pride, gains respect and trust, and is highly ethical (Idealized Influence)

Then there is also pseudo-transformational leadership, which, as the name implies, uses the trappings of transformational leadership to gain power over followers. Pseudo-transformational leaders use the behaviors of transformational leadership to the nefarious ends of having devoted followers who will do anything they want them to do. They do this by appearing to regard followers in this way and acting as if they are doing the same four things but, in fact, they are being deceptive and using them only for their own ends. It is, to borrow the well-worn phrase, to be “a wolf in sheep’s clothing.”

Pseudo-transformational leadership is defined by self-serving, yet highly inspirational leadership behaviors, unwillingness to encourage independent thought in subordinates, and little caring for one’s subordinates more generally.

Christie, A., Barling, Julian, & Turner, N. (2011). Pseudo‐Transformational Leadership: Model Specification and Outcomes 1, Journal of Applied Social Psychology, 41. DOI: 10.1111/j.1559-1816.2011.00858.x

The challenge presented to followers is that transformational leaders and pseudo-transformational leaders may look very much alike – at the beginning. By the time we’ve figured out that we are following a charlatan we may be in so deep that it becomes impossible to extract ourselves. Or, once we realize that we’ve been duped, we may stay in because we are embarrassed and want to save face. Or, in a worst case scenario, we don’t want out because we have bought into the pseudo-transformational leader’s vision, regardless of how bad it is for us and others.

One of things I’m looking forward to in my upcoming interview with the woman who studies “toxic followership” is talking with her about why it is that people stay in line behind pseudo-transformational leaders. Truthfully, we’ve all done it, you know. We’ve all, at one time or another, got in line behind a leader who was not worthy of our trust and only wanted power over us. It would be a good thing if we could figure this out, don’t you think?


chickenman – episode 86

Chickenman returns to get his orders for dealing with the Very Diabolical: Go Winged Warrior fast!


the view from jeff

Jeff explains: On the first day of Biking Camp Matthew wished he had read Pastor Juli’s email a little closer!! Make sure you register for NewGate Baptist Summer Camps, sadly no Viking Camps (at least this year). (Jeff, and his spouse Juli, are co-pastors at this multi-cultural church in Calgary.)

Stay safe, be well, keep calm, keep washing your hands, keep wearing your mask, and keep striving for justice, peace, and health for all.

Tom

On Drinking from a Fire Hose

Is there a science or art to drinking from a fire hose? This expression refers to when “things” (whatever they are) come at you so fast, so hard, so furiously that you can’t take it all in or process it adequately. It is like trying to take just a sip of water out of a fire hose that is spraying you directly in the face.

So, back to my question: is there a way to drink from the figurative fire hose of this moment in time? If so, would somebody please tell me how to do it?

As we inch toward the election (now less than 100 days away) it seems the crazy is coming faster, harder, and more furiously than ever.

I try to be a responsible news consumer. I limit my consumption of “wisdom” from pundits. I listen to the BBC and NPR news daily and watch the PBS News Hour regularly if not religiously because I trust the reporting of these outlets more than others. I also watch local news (mostly for the weather, a habit I learned as a child growing up on a farm in rural Iowa where weather was the news). I also watch or listen to news from the major broadcast networks. Each day I read headlines and articles that grab my attention from the traditional print media online (to save trees). In short, while each media outlet has its own bias I do my best to stick with sources that have earned reputations for accuracy, fairness, and balance.

And still, the crazy comes through. Whether it is a Federal invasion of American cities, the latest Tweet from Trump, Stupid people who refuse to wear masks then test positive for COVID-19, a “doctor” promoted by Trump who think demons and hydroxychloroquine have something to do with COVID-19 and when he is questioned about it he walks out of a briefing, and, of course, we are now at 150,000+ deaths from a virus that was, according to Trump, not a big deal barely four months ago.

Really. All of this in just the last 24 hours. And this is not a complete list. We need to get to the valve and turn off the fire hose. Do we have the will to do it? I hope so.


a clear and present danger…now

Click on the image to secure your own book at Amazon.com.

I just finished reading the book by Mary Trump about her uncle, Donald, who, as you may be aware, is currently occupying the White House.

My own background and training have some relevance on how I read the book and how I see both Mary and Donald Trump. First, like both Trumps, I am the product of a highly dysfunctional family resplendent with all the abuses that often characterize such families. This gives me the ability to read the book with a level of empathy that I might not otherwise be able to achieve.

Second, I pursued training in mental health counseling for my Masters degree. It could rightly be argued that I pursued that training as an unconscious response to my own personal background and need for healing. Upon completion of the degree, I practiced for a time as a therapist. Typically I saw individuals suffering from “adverse childhood experiences” which had created a post-traumatic disorder for them; men’s therapy groups; and, because sometimes I can’t say no, couples in the midst of a divorce who were mandated by the court to have counseling as a condition for getting a divorce. Mostly, though, the insights and techniques I gained from that course of study have informed my work with groups, organizations, and communities today.

Being able to read the book through these two different lenses allowed me to read it with a deep curiosity and a minimum of judgment. Let me say up front that the book does not portray either Mary Trump or Donald Trump as wholly “good” or “bad.” They just “are.” Both are victims of the same highly dysfunctional family system and it has significantly impacted both of their lives.

For Mary, the book reveals a sense of hurt and isolation from the larger Trump family. Her father, Freddy, was the heir apparent to the fortune of Fred Trump, Sr. but he was not deemed worthy of it by his father. This unworthiness extended to all of Freddy’s family, even after his untimely death. The same view of Freddy’s unworthiness was held by Donald and all other members of the Trump family. As a result Mary, her brother, and her mother were all treated as “less than” by the Trump clan.

This is not to say that Mary Trump grew up destitute. She did not. At the same time, she did not grow up in the full wealth of the Trump family nor with the unbridled excess that Donald enjoyed as the favored son after Freddy was deemed unworthy and died.

Mary Trump still bears the scars, if not open wounds, from having been kept outside the family and being guilty of unworthiness by association with her father. Sometimes I see this hurt come through the book but most of the time it isn’t obvious. This is a credit to her training as a clinical psychologist in which she likely learned how to observe and manage her own messy emotions that can arise in the process of observing others, even family members.

Like Mary, Donald Trump is a hapless and helpless victim of the same dysfunctional family system. Unlike Mary, Donald Trump seems clueless about his victimization and pain.

Don’t misunderstand what your are about to read: sometimes clueless is a good thing. The most painful part of healing is coming to grips with reality. To do so requires you to take your whole world, turn it upside down, and see it from a very different perspective. The pain comes as you intentionally walk away from your cluelessness. That’s not easy. It’s not fun. It’s downright painful because we all want to believe that the world as we perceive it is the world as it really is. It is just much easier to live in a state of cluelessness.

A therapist I used to see for my own healing once gave me this saying on a wall hanging: Pain is the breaking of the shell that encloses our understanding.

The portrait of Donald Trump offered by Mary Trump is of a man so deep in denial about himself, his childhood, his relationship with his parents, etc. that he has lost all sense of himself. The first and biggest wall Trump ever built was the one that separates himself from what he fears is his true self. A self that was profoundly informed by his parents as it was for each of their children. In an effort to avoid what he fears most about himself he has created this other wildly glorified self he continues to project today – strength, toughness, manliness. This is his protection from a father who could not show love and approval and a mother who preferred to be rid of him and sent him off to a military school (in truth, a “reform school”).

When we are very afraid we try to make others fear us. We erroneously believe we will be less afraid if others are afraid of us. We can also confuse their fear with respect and imagine ourselves, therefore, to be great. Unfortunately, using our fear in this way doesn’t work the way we think it does. It only makes us dangerous because the more we try to control others – whether by fear or some other form of manipulation – the more frustrated and dangerous we become.

People of the Lie by the late M. Scott Peck is one of the most interesting books I’ve ever read. Peck’s thesis is that there are people so masterful at crafting lies about their reality, including themselves, that they actually believe them to be true. When they do this they become incredibly dangerous to others. Parker Palmer, in A Hidden Wholeness, seems to suggest these same people are those who live divided lives. They are so invested in being what and who others (e.g., parents, family, bosses, spouses, etc.) think they should be that they lose touch with who they really are. These speak to Mr. Trump’s condition.

I offer this assessment without condemnation, only pity. I know what it is like to be a person of the lie and to live a divided life. I know the pain of breaking the shell that encloses deeper understanding of reality. I also do not blame Mr. Trump for choosing to believe the myth he has created rather than the reality the rest of us are experiencing under his presidency. The luxury of a soothing personal myth is a wonderful thing…until it doesn’t work anymore.

Will Mr. Trump ever let go of his myth? I don’t know. Frankly, I wish he would because I think he could be a decent man if he could allow himself to be a fully human person. I say this because all of us who have made that same journey of self have come out in a better place than we started. It is only the fear of pain that keeps us from taking the first step.

Sometimes we are forced into taking the first step. Mine came as the result of a series of life dominoes which began falling when I was 27. My father died unexpectedly and that was a deep and profound shock to my life. Within a few months I lost 75 pounds (which, in hindsight, was actually good for my health) and long held family secrets began to leak out. I began the painful journey of facing the reality of my family, its legacy of dysfunction, and how I had been impacted by it from birth.

For Mr. Trump, the first step may come as he feels his grip on the country is being loosened and, especially, if he loses the upcoming election. In a worst case scenario, he will continue to live in the full power of the myth and use every resource at his disposal to try to reclaim the office he lost because it proves his manhood and his worthiness to his long deceased father whom he saw (and helped) mercilessly judge and push out his older brother Freddy. In a best case scenario he will learn from the opportunity it presents, allow himself to heal as a result, and become less myth and more human.

I hope Mr. Trump chooses healing and humanity for our sake and his. Of course, choosing these carries a price. It is the price of personal responsibility for the hurt and damage we have done while living out our myth. If Mr. Trump can do that, he will become the real man he has tried so hard to convince himself that he is already.


chickenman – episode 85

After considerable negotiation with the Winged Warrior to end his trans Atlantic flight, Ms. Helfinger agrees to meet him at Plymouth Rock and promises to reimburse him the collect charges from their call.


Stay safe, be well, keep calm, keep washing your hands, keep wearing your mask, and keep striving for justice, peace, and health for all.

Tom

Let’s All Get into Good Trouble

Last Sunday I had intended to join Meeting for Worship via Zoom at our Quaker Meeting. Prior to connecting though I was watching Face the Nation on CBS. Just as I was about to “tune in” to our Quaker meeting, Face the Nation moderator, Margaret Brennan, announced the show would be moving to a special report on John Lewis’ final crossing of the Edmund Pettus Bridge. I kept the television tuned to CBS.

For the next 75 minutes I watched as John Lewis made his final crossing of the Edmund Pettus Bridge. It began this past Sunday at Brown Chapel AME Church in Selma, just as it did on “Bloody Sunday,” March 7, 1965. This time, though, John Lewis’ body rode in a casket on a caisson pulled by two horses. After brief remarks from a legislator and a minister and a song, his casket was loaded onto the caisson by a U.S. military honor guard – which seemed odd for Lewis, a man who stood for nonviolence. Then the caisson made its way the 10 blocks to the Edmond Pettus Bridge. As it crossed the bridge the driver stopped the caisson at several points, stood, and kept silence in honor of John Lewis and the meaning of his walk across the bridge in 1965.

On the other side of the bridge, the casket carrying John Lewis was met by members of the Alabama State Police, just as it was on March 7, 1965. This time, though, they stood at attention and saluted Mr. Lewis. In 1965 it was members of the Alabama State Police that beat him so badly that he suffered a concussion. His casket was transferred from the caisson and placed in a hearse. From there the Alabama State Police provided safe passage and an honor guard to Montgomery where Mr. Lewis is to lie in state before having the same honor at the U.S. Capitol yesterday and today.

On March 7, 1965 I was 10 years, soon to turn 11. I still remember seeing the news reports featuring film of the marchers being attacked. I did not fully understand what it was all about at that age. Still, as I watched the film, I got the kind of knot in my stomach and sick feeling that comes from seeing something you know instinctively is so horrible and so wrong. It’s the same knot and feeling I got as I watched the video of George Floyd being murdered.

I didn’t realize how much the film of Bloody Sunday impacted me until many years later when I was working in Montgomery, Alabama. I remember driving out of the Montgomery Regional Airport on to Selma Highway (U.S. Route 80). To visit the scene of Bloody Sunday, all I had to do was turn left toward Selma. I had the time, opportunity, and inclination to visit the site. In the end, though, I remembered that film, the horror it triggered in me, and the traumatic memories of my 10-year-old’s fear won out. It is something I still regret.

Let’s get in good trouble

Earlier this month, on July 3rd, John Lewis: Good Trouble, was released. It is a documentary of his life and his work. It focuses on a core philosophy of Mr. Lewis, the idea of getting into “good trouble,” the kind of trouble that brings about change for the greater good.

On July 23 The Brookings Institution published a piece by Rashawn Ray that reminds us of the last time John Lewis led a commemorative walk across the Edmund Pettus Bridge on March 1, 2020. At that time, Lewis said in a speech: “Get in good trouble, necessary trouble, and redeem the soul of America.”

Ray’s article articulates five ways we can get in “good trouble.” This seems to be the time to cause a bit of “good trouble.” In fact, since 1965, I’m not sure there has been a better time. Here are Ray’s five lessons from John Lewis, with just a bit of commentary from me.

  1. Vote, always. In a pandemic or not, in primary or a general election, in local races or national races, whether you “love” the choices or not.
  2. You are never too young to make a difference. I‘m guessing John Lewis would also say that you are never too old to make a difference, too.
  3. Speak truth to power. Power doesn’t usually want to hear the truth, so don’t expect the powerful to come to you to hear your truth. Take it to them…again, and again, and again until they hear it.
  4. Become a racial equity broker. It isn’t enough to not be racist or even be anti-racists. Both of those things can be accomplished within oneself. To be a racial equity broker is to go beyond advocacy to take on the work of changing policies, practices, and protocols that inhibit racial equity.
  5. Never give up. Change at any level – personal, family, community, and societal – requires tenacity. Only the most tenacious will bring about change. They may not always live to see it, but it would not happen without them.

So, what do you say? Wanna get into some trouble…some “good trouble”? We’ve got time between now and November 3rd to find some and do it.


chickenman – Episode 84

Chickenman is finally contacted in his flight across the Atlantic but a debate ensues with Ms. Helfinger about who will pay for the collect charges.


Stay safe, be well, keep calm, keep washing your hands, keep wearing your mask, and keep striving for justice, peace, and health for all.

Tom

My Survival Guide to Electioneering

It’s coming…and it will bring relief, at least temporarily. You know what it is: the U.S. general election on November 3, 2020. Until we get there, we have to survive the electioneering. You know what that is like: endless robocalls, a plethora of media advertising, pundits jabbering and nodding their heads like possessed bobbleheads, and a profusion of arguments on social media among people who really used to be friends. It could be argued that the electioneering never ended after the disastrous election of 2016 in which the worst candidate won.

Fair point, really. Maybe it didn’t actually end. Still, there has been a bit of a lull and things are about to ramp up again, especially as the conventions draw near for the two major parties. So, how do we survive the electioneering? Here’s my shortlist of things I’m considering.

Send myself to Canada

Seriously. I could call FedEx for pickup of an overnight delivery, quickly box myself up, and hang out inside the box watching my favorite Canada tutorial, The Red Green Show downloaded to my phone. It ran for 15 seasons so there should be plenty to keep me occupied while I wait to be delivered to one of my very surprised Canadian friends. (Jeff Logan, are you reading this?)

Of course, in the good ole days, before the United States became the Coronavirus Global Leper Colony, I would have just driven to Canada, flown, or taken a train. Nope. Can’t do that so easily now. Besides, the most direct route to Canada is through New York State but Marylanders have now been put on a quarantine list in New York. We show up, we’ve got to be quarantined for 14 days before we can engage with any actual New Yorkers. (But can we use the rest areas?)

That’s it then, eh? (Practicing my Canadian.) The only option is to FedEx myself to Canada. Care to join me? If you need further convincing that Canada is a great place to be, pandemic or not, take a look at the video below.

Follow traditional media delivered only in languages I do not understand

This idea leverages the “advantage” of American arrogance which downplays the value of learning any language other than English, also known as ‘Merican!, and of course “‘Merican!” it is always spelled with an exclamation point.

Finally, there really is an advantage! Because of my linguistic ignorance, I have a wide selection of media outlets featuring news and programs I cannot understand. I have to be careful with the BBC and CBC, though, because I usually can understand them pretty well, if I keep Google Translate handy. I also have to be somewhat careful of Univision or Telemundo because, by linguistic osmosis, I have picked up a little bit of Spanish from Clemencia. She assures me I have only enough to be dangerous which is all the more reason to avoid Spanish language news outlets. I could badly misunderstand something I hear and end up doing something more stupid than usual.

Fortunately, we also have a lot of media here in the DC area that features Asian and Middle Eastern language news and programming. I should have no problem finding media in a language I can’t understand.

Live under my bed until it’s all over

I can’t go anywhere anyway so I think I could make the space under our bed pretty comfortable. With the mattress above me and pillows stuffed around me, sounds would be muffled during the day. Any excess media noise would probably just sound like mumbling.

Living under the bed by day, I would become nocturnal. I could crawl out from under the bed at night to eat, shower, use the bathroom, and even get some work done. The media noise would be a bit less in the middle of the night…especially if I stayed off Twitter before Trump went to sleep…if he sleeps. The downside is that I would fear turning into a cockroach.

Wear a Handmaid’s Tale hat with ear protection

The iconic hat from Hulu’s The Handmaid’s Tale would work really well to keep my eyes focused on the the things right in front of me. This would make it a bit more difficult to get distracted by the electioneering advertising. The outfit is easy enough to get. All I have to do is go to Target and for $29.99, I’ve got the hat and the dress.

Then, add to that some stylish ear protection, and voila! It’s the perfect Fall look to get me through the worst of the electioneering season.

It could work, you know. I mean, I’ve had great success with the aluminum foil hat I’ve been wearing for years to protect me from Government mind control through radio waves.

Speaking of The Handmaid’s Tale, the new Season 4 trailer is out. Take a look.

Lean into it

Failing all else, I could just lean into the electioneering and do it myself. I could come out in support of a candidate and then vigorously campaign for that person. Of all of the possibilities, this is the one that seems to be most participatory for our democracy. Ethically it also seems the right thing to do as well. As partisan as things have become, it is not without risk.

Stay tuned…I’ll be making my choice by Labor Day, which, in the U.S. during a Presidential election year, is the “official” start of the campaign season. When it comes, I’ll be ready.


the view from jeff

Jeff explains: The Barbecuing Season is limited in Alberta if you don’t learn to grill in inclement weather.

Stay safe, be well, keep calm, keep washing your hands, keep wearing your mask, and keep striving for justice, peace, and health for all.

Tom

July 23, 2020 – Magicicadas and Pingüinos

how do they do that?

Summer is a curious time. It’s not my favorite time because I prefer cool weather over hot weather and, wow, is it hot right now. I’ve been a very fair skinned guy all of my life so when I spend too much time in the sun, I begin looking like the (boiled) Lobster Man from Mars. (The movie is truly awful, so awful it is actually pretty good.)

Cicadas make summer tolerable for me. They are among the ugliest creatures on earth but their songs are extraordinary. I’m probably one of those few odd people who long for the return of the magicicada, also known as periodical cicadas. These are the ones which tend to appear in 13 and 17-year cycles.

Magicicada are grouped into “broods” throughout the United States. Based on their last appearance, it is possible to calculate their next appearance. Here in Maryland we have a 17-year magicicada known as the Great Eastern Brood. They last sang for us 2004…well, not for me, I was still living in Iowa then…but they are coming back on tour in 2021. They will be appearing in 14 states: New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Delaware, Maryland, District of Columbia, Virginia, West Virginia, North Carolina, Georgia, Tennessee, Kentucky, Ohio, Indiana, Illinois, and Michigan. Woo hoo! I can hardly wait!

I try to take daily walks for exercise and to get out of Clemencia’s hair for a bit. My usual treks take me along some wooded areas where the cicadas have recently been testing their songs. It is one of the most comforting sounds I know and it always takes me back home to summer nights in Iowa.

Not sure what a cicada song sounds like? Here’s a video of a cicada doing a solo. In the background you can also hear a fascinated young child who poses one of those questions bound to stump most parents.

The film version of the Broadway show, The Music Man, is one of our favorite movies. It is about Harold Hill, an unscrupulous salesman of musical instruments and marching band uniforms in the early 20th century. He plies his trade in River City, Iowa and, as usual, plans to collect the money and leave town before the instruments and uniforms arrive. In this way he isn’t found out as a phony music teacher and band leader. In one of my favorite scenes, Hill (played by the late Robert Preston, whose acting career did not usually include singing, by the way) teaches four battling school board members how to sing and they become an inseparable barbershop quartet. The video of this scene below is a bit grainy but the audio is good…especially if you turn it up a wee bit.

So, what does Harold Hill, The Music Man, and this barbershop quartet have to do with the cicada video and song? Remember, in the scene, when one of the board members objects that he can’t sing? Hill tells him, “You see, singing is just sustained talking.” Maybe this also helps the parent answer the child’s question in the cicada video. You know, when we hear the child say, “How’s he do that?” Perhaps the right answer is, “You see, the cicada’s song is just sustained flatulence.” Just saying!


speaking of penguins…

If cicadas remind me of summer, penguins remind me of cooler, happier times. Aside from just the fact that they are incredibly cute and always well-dressed, I love them because of what they are called in Spanish. In Spanish the name for “penguin” is “pingüino” (masculine form) and “pingüina” (feminine form). Don’t know why, I just love the sound of the word and it almost always makes me smile when I say it or hear it. Because it is not a common word to use, I have to work really hard to find ways to use it with my Spanish’speaking spouse. For example:

  • Would you like to go the zoo next year…when we can leave the house again…and see some pingüinos?
  • I know we watched it only two nights ago, but how about if we watch March of the Pingüinos again tonight?
  • Hey, Clemencia, did I tell you I got a phone call from a person who claimed to be a pingüino?
  • Can you believe it? I had another dream about playing basketball with an 8-foot pingüino last night!

My pingüino musings do have a point but only barely. Today’s Washington Post has a photo essay by a Dutch photographer, Albert Dros. He traveled to Antarctica and got some beautiful photos of pingüinos and lots of ice, which is perfect for the heatwave we are enduring at the moment. Enjoy!


One more thing…

Here’s a very fun but brief Instagram posting from Scott Hoying, one of founders and leads in the acapella group, Pentatonix. It is a tribute to Dr. Anthony Fauci based on a song from Hamilton. Enjoy!


chickenman – episode 83

Ms. Helfinger makes an emergency call to the Atlantic Ocean to recall Chickenman to help the Commissioner fight a Very Diabolical.


Stay safe, be well, keep calm, keep washing your hands, keep wearing your mask, and keep striving for justice, peace, and health for all.

Tom

July 21, 2020 – An Audience of One

minimalist strategy planning

Last week I had to turn down a potential client who wanted me to lead a strategic planning process. It’s not that I didn’t like the client or that I’m work adverse. It just didn’t feel right ethically.

A strategy plan is developed in relationship to the context in which an organization or group exists and functions. In fact, the strategy is all about how to negotiate the context or environment to ensure organizational effectiveness, sustainability, or overall success. A strategy plan, which usually is a multi-year plan, is dependent on the context being reasonably stable. It assumes the context will be mostly stable throughout the lifetime of the plan. Traumatic disruptions do occur, of course, often in the form of an immediate crisis that occurs and then passes in a matter of weeks. Even then it may be necessary to put the plan on pause or make some adjustments to it.

What if, though, the context is unsettled, unstable, and uncertain? You know, like in the midst of a raging pandemic that seems to have no end in sight? That makes strategy planning nearly impossible. To begin a contract to lead a strategy planning process in the current environment is not only unethical, it would be a nightmare to do. Until the context and environment settles into some time of regular routine (note, I did not say “normal”) again, I’m encouraging my clients to avoid long-range strategy planning.

However, we want to be able to plan. Plus, our understanding of “best practices” for organizational development have conditioned us to have a strategic plan in place…whether we pay attention to it or not, right? (By the way, there was a fascinating segment from On The Media last weekend about “shifting baselines” that relates to this post and is quite interesting and worth a few minutes of your time.)

The alternative is what I call, for a lack of a better term, “minimalist strategy planning.” It sounds fancy, eh? In fact, it is really just the practice of adaptive leadership but, sometimes, folks just need to hear the words they expect to hear.

Early in our pandemic year (back in April which seems a long time ago now), I worked with several colleagues on putting together some resources for nonprofits. The resources were anchored in adaptive leadership. You can access that series, Leading in Crisis, Part 1 and Part 2, at this top of the page titled Work in the Time of COVID-19 on this website and by just clicking on the previous link.

We created those resources believing they would be obsolete within weeks as we all went back to our “normal” lives with the passing of the pandemic. Now, three months later, I am seeing the resources still offer relevant, solid advice for negotiating the future. They allow us to practice “minimalist strategy planning” as we feel our way through these current times.


an audience of one

I’ve been reading Mary L. Trump’s book on her famous, powerful uncle, Donald Trump, over the past few days. It is a fascinating insider’s view of the Trump family, particularly Donald. What makes it quite powerful is that, by virtue of her training as a clinical psychologist, Mary Trump is able to also write the book from a unique professional perspective.

By the way, in case you were wondering, Mary Trump does not diagnose her uncle. She does suggest the possible diagnoses from the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual that could explain his behavior, but she stops short of making a diagnosis.

Though I’m still working my way through the book, the one idea that sticks with me is the degree to which Donald Trump has played, throughout his life, to an audience of one: his father, Fred Trump, Sr. Have you ever noticed, in pictures of Trump in the Oval Office, that a picture of his father sits on the credenza behind him? It is as if he is looking over his shoulder…as he seems to have done in life, from the time of Donald’s birth.

This is a point at which I have some empathy for Donald Trump because I have also played to an audience of one for most of my life. In my case, that one person was my mother. It took me until I was over 50 years old and she was 88 years old that I was finally able to exit her theater. Until that moment the sub-plot of my life was to find a way to win her approval and her love. If she ever felt any of these, she did not express them to me. To the best of my knowledge, I don’t know that she ever expressed them to my sisters either.

Many people have an audience of one they are playing to. It is far more common than we’d like to admit in a culture that worships at the altar of bootstrapism – usually described in terms such as self-efficacy, self-sufficiency, autonomy, and independence. Without help we give away our lives in the pursuit of something we will never get from that one audience member. Our desire to play that part in the hope of even a little applause can drive us to other and self-destruction. The stage lighting blinds us making it difficult, if not impossible, to see that we are responsible for our actions in the play by virtue of our choice stay on stage, in the theater, and pursue the approval of the one.

In truth, we are all responsible for ourselves – our actions, our beliefs, our attitutdes – regardless of who is in the audience and what their approval means to us. Hence, I feel empathy for Donald Trump but he is still responsible for managing it in a way that is healthy for himself, his family, and the country that he has been entrusted to steward.

This last weekend Donald Trump sat for an interview with Chris Wallace of Fox News. Kudos to Chris Wallace for a very powerful and revealing interview. I have been watching or listening to him recently on his Sunday morning interview show and have been increasingly impressed with this skills as an interviewer and competency as a journalist.

As I watched the interview this morning I was very aware of Trump’s audience of one. I’m convinced he does not share that same awareness. I’ve put a link to the interview below. It is approximately 40 minutes in the length and it is well worth the time to watch it. Be mindful who Donald Trump’s audience really is -it’s not his base, contrary to what he and many pundits believe. It is his father whose disapproval he has feared more than anything in his life. It is Donald Trump’s refusal – or inability – to get off the stage that Fred Trump, Sr. built, where he is continuously playing to his father, that makes him so very dangerous to all of us in this moment.


chickenman – episode 82

The Masked Maternal Marauder (Chickenman’s mother) has to step in for him while he continues his flight across the Atlantic.


the view from jeff

Jeff explains: With the return of professional hockey I am afraid that I may strain some unused cheering muscles!! I will need to enter in slowly with low stakes cheering – maybe one of the eastern playoff games first.

Stay safe, be well, keep calm, keep washing your hands, keep wearing your mask, and keep striving for justice, peace, and health for all.

Tom

July 16, 2020 – Dog Days and Dog Rides

According to Farmers’ Almanac (where else?) The “Dog Days” of summer” refers to that period of Summer from July 3 to August 11. I’ve always assumed it had something to do with the oppressive heat that usually comes during this period. For example, right now in Laurel, we are experiencing a heatwave of more than 20 days over 90 degrees. And, because of the heat, it seems the best thing to do is simply lie around, like the dog, on the cool floor. Not a bad idea, eh?

Turns out there is an astronomical explanation for the “Dog Days.” Here’s how Farmers’ Almanac describes it:

The phrase is actually a reference to the fact that, during this time, the Sun occupies the same region of the sky as Sirius, the brightest star visible from any part of Earth and part of the constellation Canis Major, the Greater Dog. This is why Sirius is sometimes called the Dog Star.

In the summer, Sirius rises and sets with the Sun. On July 23rd, specifically, it is in conjunction with the Sun, and because the star is so bright, the ancient Romans believed it actually gave off heat and added to the Sun’s warmth, accounting for the long stretch of sultry weather. They referred to this time as diēs caniculārēs, or “dog days.”

Thus, the term Dog Days of Summer came to mean the 20 days before and 20 days after this alignment of Sirius with the Sun—July 3 to Aug. 11.

Farmers’ Almanac, Why Are They Called the “Dog Days” of Summer?

That is all very interesting and good to know, but it is completely meaningless to our remaining dog, Dolly. (You’ll remember had to let Madison make her journey to the Rainbow Bridge about a month ago.) Dolly has this idea that “Dog Days” means “Dog Rides.”

My view of Dolly while on a ride.

Every time I take her outside to do her doodies (or “duties,” if you will), she finds a way to guide me to my car. She stands by the driver’s side rear door looking up at me until I either give in and take her for a ride or I become the Big Bad Doggy Daddy and slowly, but gently, drag her back into the house.

Those eyes! See what I mean??? I’m helpless!

Standing by the door of the car she looks up at me and kills me with those sweet, dark eyes. More often than I’d like, I give in and we go for a brief ride. Really, it doesn’t have to be long. I can drive around the block and she still feels like she has been around the world. Farmers’ Almanac, at the end of its article on the “Dog Days” of Summer asks this question: “So what does it mean to you?” For Dolly it means rides. For me, it means I’m driving Ms. Dolly.

P.S. I was going to use a photo of me with my head hanging out the window while driving down the street but that seemed neither wise nor terribly attractive.


chickenman – episode 81

Chickenman continues his flight across the Atlantic, Ms. Helfinger is back in the office, and the Commissioner needs to Wonderful Weekend Warrior. But how is Ms. Helfinger to reach him mid-flight?


Stay safe, be well, keep calm, keep washing your hands, keep wearing your mask, and keep striving for justice, peace, and health for all.

Tom

July 13, 2020 – News and Info You May Have Missed

Stories of covid-19

So, how is the battle against the Novel Cornavirus going? According to the data, as of yesterday at 2:12 PM, it’s going just GREAT if you are trying to kill off a lot of people in the U.S. Sometimes I wonder if that isn’t the point of Trump’s inaction. Maybe he wins the election by reducing the electorate!?!? Seems a really odd strategy but…geez…weirder things have happened, eh?

Here’s a couple of graphics I grabbed yesterday. First, this one comes from the Harvard Global Health Institute, and you can check out the current data yourself by following the link or just clicking on the map.

This map shows, county by county, the risk levels for each. The redder the county, the higher the risk. In this way the Harvard Global Health Institute folks are trying to answer the question: How severe is the pandemic where you live?

Just a glance of the map tells us a couple of things. First, it’s much less risky to be in the Northeast and the Rocky Mountain region. Not a good idea at all to plan vacation travel to Arizona, Florida, Louisiana, South Carolina, Georgia, Texas or Alabama. Each of these states – as whole – are in the red (highest) risk level category.

The scond thing this tells us, because all of the these states are in the “sunbelt” in the midst of summer, the Novel Coronavirus is not being slowed by the outside temperature. You’ll remember this was one of the theories being floated by Trump a few months ago based on a Department of Homeland Security study, which was not peer reviewed. This is a great illustration of why good data matters and, even more, a good process needs to be used to get to the data. By the way, what IS the status of that study? Was it ever completed? Has it been reviewed? After Trump put it out there as yet another one of his “creative” solutions to the virus, it seems to have disappeared…you know…like the virus… in the sunlight, after you drink a gallon of Lysol, and take a few hydroxychloriquine.

I have one more graphic, this one from the Institute of Health Metrics and Evaluation in Washington State. These are the folks who have been trying to project the number of deaths from the pandemic in the U.S. See below for their latest projection. They are now projecting over 200,000 deaths by November 1. Again, check it out for yourself at the link or by clicking on the graphic.

November 1 – in case you’ve forgotten, this is only two days before the General Election on November 3rd. Please, don’t forget…either this number and to vote.


news and info you may have missed

Maureen Dowd has not exactly been friendly to Joe Biden. She has called him out on some of the faux pas and bad choices he has made over the years. She has a realistic view of who he is. And she has a realistic view of who Trump is. Her column in Satuday’s NY Times is worth reading.

Also worth reading is Ashley Parker and Robert Costa’s piece in the Saturday’s Washington Post. The growing movement of Republicans working against Trump’s reelection seems to be gaining some traction.

I’ve mentioned before that I’m a fan of the public radio show On The Media. The July 10th show, 40 Acres, is particularly interesting and informative with regard to housing discrimination and the eviction crisis in the United States. Generally I’m pretty well informed but I do not know much about real estate, financing, and “redlining.” Listening to this show, though, gave me a much better understanding of all of these.

Jo, a regular reader from out West, sent me this great piece from NPR. She and I have worked in the field of sexuality education. She found this story from NPR and passed it on to me, knowing of that part of my professional background. The title of the article says a lot doesn’t it? Starting A COVID-19 ‘Social Bubble’? How Safe Sex Communication Skills Can Help.

Judy, a reader from really far out West, also sent me a piece about the disparties in enforcing stay-at-home emergency orders by Honolulu Police. The Hawai`i Public Radio describes Micronesians, Samoans, and Blacks have been disproportionately cited for violations. Violations in Hawai`i carry some pretty tough penalties – up to $5,000 in fines and a year in jail. However, Hawai`i also has a large homeless population which has further complicated the issue.


Bob dylan, DJ

Another regular reader, Mike, reminded me that Bob Dylan had a radio show on satellite radio back in the early 2000’s. It was called “Theme Time Radio Hour.” I don’t remember if it was on XM Radio or Sirius (before they were joined up and became SiriusXM). I’m inclined to think it was XM Radio because I remember listening to the show a few times and the only subscription I had at that time was to XM.

I found if you open the archive website link in Google Chrome, there will be a player that opens with it to allow you to listen to the show. Firefox may require you to download a player first. If the link above does not open in Chrome, you can cut and paste this link into your Chrome browser: https://www.themetimeradio.com/

The theme for the very first episode was Weather so it featured weather realated music from all genres. Dylan featured music by a wide variety of performers: Muddy Waters, Jimmie Davis, Joe Jones, Dean Martin, Sister Rosetta Tharp, Jimi Hendrix, Judy Garland, Frank Sinatra, Stevie Wonder, and one of my all time favorites, Fats Domino.

The show was on for three seasons. Seems like some good Summer time listening!


chickenman – episode 80

Ms. Helfinger continues her breakdown and her visit with the psychiatrist. However, she flips the couch on him!

Stay safe, be well, keep calm, keep washing your hands, keep wearing your mask, and keep striving for justice, peace, and health for all.

Tom

July 11, 2020 – How To Plan When You Can’t Plan

a musical summer!

Last Friday night Clemencia and I fired up Disney+ and watched Hamilton, a film of the extraordinarily popular Broadway show that won a boatload of Tony’s in 2016. We had to subscribe to Disney+ to see it but, fortunately we got a bundle that includes Hulu and ESPN as well. Weirdly, the cost of the Disney+ for a year is still less expensive than a single seat at most live performances of the show…not that there will be many for the near future.

Okay, for a little more fun with Hamilton, have you seen Weird Al Yankovic’s “The Hamilton Polka?” You’ve got to take five minutes (and one second) to watch it.

If you’ve ever wondered how artist’s react to being parodied by Weird Al, you’ll also enjoy these two links: Lin-Manuel Miranda hears “Weird Al” Yankovic’s “The Hamilton Polka” for the first time and Jimmy Fallon’s interview of Lin-Manuel Miranda and Weird Al, with the story of how it all came together.

We enjoyed Hamilton a lot…in fact, we watched it a second time and let it inspire us to see what other Broadway shows might be available for us to watch this summer. Much to our delight we discovered that PBS is going to start showing Broadway shows on Friday nights as part of its Great Performances: Broadway at Home series. It all begins on PBS on July 24th.

We’ve decided to get an early start by watching several Broadway shows that are also available through streaming services such as Netflix, Amazon Prime, and, again, Disney+. BroadwayHD is a streaming service that provides access to all kinds of Broadway shows. It is a paid service but at $99.00 a year, it is still less expensive than a ticket for one in the nosebleed section!

how do you plan when you can’t plan?

That’s the question I’ve been helping a number of my clients answer over the past few months. When the pandemic national emergency order was issued on Friday the 13th of March, most of us (except my spouse, Clemencia) were pretty sure this was going to be a two-week bonus vacation, right?

But those two weeks grew into four weeks, then six, then two months, then three months and now we are in our fourth month of an altered reality due to the Novel Coronavirus. Plus, as our understanding the virus changes, it changes how we think about the future – vacation trips, school, working back in our offices with other people (in the flesh), and team sporting events – from junor soccer, to little league, to professional sports.

Let’s be honest. Long-range planning is very difficult, if not impossible, right now. We don’t when, or if, our kids will be in school this Fall. We don’t know if we will be “locked down” again. We don’t have a clue what our lives and our work will look like six weeks from now, not to mention six months.

Such uncertainty is disconcerting and uncomfortable. I have spent the last decade or so becoming comfortable with uncertainty. I have always been a very planful person and I’ve always wanted to know, with a high degree of certainty, what was coming next. Thankfully, I need less certainty today.

Several years ago I became interested in complexity theory and the concept of emergence. Understanding and embracing these has allowed me to help my clients achieve a greater level of peace in the current environment. Planning is an effort to control the uncontrollable. However, there is nothing wrong with planning if we don’t become compulsive about it. In fact, there are good reasons for doing some planning.

It is most valuable when we can think of planning as a form of readiness to adapt when adaptation, or more adaptation, is required. Adaptation is always needed…not just in a highly unpredictable pandemic but at all times because none of us can predict the future. If we could do that, all of us would be rich and all of the casinos and lotteries would have gone broke by now.

At the heart of effective planning in a time of extreme uncertainty there is the need to trust. No, not leaders or other people to save us. We need to trust in a process more than a plan. For example, we may not have a plan for how to get our kids back to school safely, but we need to be able to trust a process for determining how to move forward and yet remain nimble in case circumstances change quickly again. The same is true for re-opening our businesses, bringing people back into work safely, and returning to some sense of life as it was on March 1 rather than March 13.

To trust a process requires us to trust how decisions are made. I have great appreciation for the leader who says, “I’m not exactly sure how we are going to do this, but I know we can figure it out if we consider the information and facts we have, work together on a solution, and be responsible to do our part and follow through.” I have much less appreciation for those who claim to know the answer based on their intuition and “gut.”

If you are leading a team, an organaization, or even a family, try leaning into your uncertainty and trust the process instead of trying to guess your way out of this with a plan. Put down your logic models, theories of change, strategy plans, and organizational charts for a little bit. Just step back and keep your eyes open to the lessons to be learned and the opportunties that are emerging in this new reality.

In brief, trust the process. Know the best answers for this moment will emerge as we move forward as best we can and with openness to those things we can’t see when we overplan. And, remember, you do not have to have all the answers all of the time. Trust that others have answers too.


the view from jeff

chickenman – episode 79

Ms. Helfinger makes an involuntary trip to Dr. Friendly…who sounds a lot like Bela Lugosi. I wonder what he looks like?


Stay safe, be well, keep calm, keep washing your hands, keep wearing your mask, and keep striving for justice, peace, and health for all.

Tom

July 8, 2020 – Hard Truths

hard truths

Next week Mary L. Trump speaks some hard truth. On July 14th her book about her uncle, Donald Trump, comes out. Reporting by the New York Times, the Washington Post, and others reveals that it will be the story of her uncle as an incredibly wounded, psychologically damaged and impaired person, whose psychopathology is endangering us all.

This should not really be a surprise to anyone who has, even a little, objectively observed Trump prior to his presidency and since assuming the office in 2017. It is a very dangerous book for Donald Trump because Mary tells hard truth about him that helps us understand some of the other hard truths others have been sharing in their “tell all” books. What gives this book some greater credibility over the others is that 1) Mary was an insider in the Trump clan and 2) she is a clinical psychologist.

Honestly, I won’t giddily read the book looking for salicious, condemning new bits of information about Donald Trump. We already know as much as we need to know about Trump to make a clear headed judgment about his fitness for leadership.

I expect to feel pity and sadness for both Donald Trump and Mary Trump as I read the book.

Both are victims of a highly dysfunctional family and have come through many Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs). I know. That sounds very judgmental, doesn’t it? It is an assessment I can fairly and compassionately make because I also come from a highly dysfunctional family and have a number of ACEs, too. A bit of “It takes one to know one,” plus I was also trained as a therapist and worked with numerous clients who had experienced early childhood trauma.

Donald Trump uses bravado, hubris, and mistruth to feel like a worthy person. I expect this book will make that clearer than ever. Mary Trump is also deeply wounded. She strikes me as a person who needs to write this book as part of her own healing and recovery. It is also an attempt to save others.

I can empathize with both. Like Donald Trump I have felt incredibly insecure and have resorted to the same strategies. I have also been wounded like Mary Trump and felt a need to stake my claim to recovery and save others.

If Your Parent Drinks Too Much was my “tell-all” book in the 1980’s. It didn’t sell nearly as many copies as Mary Trump’s book will, but it did okay. It was nominated for a national book award, won a minor book award, and was translated into German and published in Europe. I didn’t write it as a tell-all book, but that was the impact it had on my family, particularly my sisters.

The book focused on lessons learned from growing up with a severely alcoholic father and a chronically angry mother who resented the presence of her children because they “trapped” her in a marriage she did not want. I did not intentionally tell stories on my family though there were many that could be told. When my sisters read the book, they read between the lines. They saw things in the book that reminded them of things they thought they had forgotten and which they had never discussed with anyone, including among themselves.

Years later I would learn that on a few occasions my sisters would meet up for a weekend to talk about what they had read and then compare their own stories. Even more years later the four of us sat together in a nursing home where my middle sister was waiting to die. On that day we talked for hours, for the first and only time in our lives, by ourselves. Our parents had passed years before and, now, we could freely talk. We finally had the safety to speak the hard truth each of us had hidden. We weeped together, affirmed our love for one another, and healed a little bit more.

Stories like those I told, and which I believe Mary Trump will tell, can make a difference because they speak hard truths which are also often hidden from view. They can be so hard, in fact, that they can be hidden from our conscious self as well. Mary Trump’s book may give Donald Trump the same opportunity it gives her – to heal. I won’t be voting for Trump in the Fall, but I will be hoping he allows this book to move him to experience the healing he so badly needs, and which we all need for him to experience.


a moment of sweetness

This Tweet appeared in my feed recently. It features a serendipitous experience for a young girl in a park. I won’t give the story away but I hope you will take a minute to watch it. I think it will make you smile.


chickenman – episode 78

The Police Commissioner orders the arrest of his own brother, a rum runner. This episode features some great one line zingers from Ms. Helfinger!


Stay safe, be well, keep calm, keep washing your hands, keep wearing your mask, and keep striving for justice, peace, and health for all.

Tom