What Am I Really Teaching?


For years I have adopted the worldview that how I do something is as important as what I do.  I’m not saying that I always get it right – I’m just saying that this idea stirs something within me.  Today I read something from Parker Palmer* that provided some more stirring around this issue.

I offer it to you.

If you want to understand our controlling conception of knowledge, do not ask for our best epistemological** theories.  Instead, observe the way we teach and look for the theory of knowledge implicit in those practices.

The teacher is a mediator between the knower and the known, between the learner and the subject to be learned.  A teacher, not some theory, is the living link in the epistemological chain.  The way a teacher plays the mediator role conveys both an epistemology and an ethic to the student, both an approach to knowing and an approach to living.  I may teach the rhetoric of freedom, but if I teach it “ex cathedra”, asking my students to rely solely on the authority of “the facts” and demanding that they imitate authority on their papers and exams, I am teaching a slave ethic.  I am forming students who know neither how to learn in freedom nor how to live freely, guided by an inner sense of truth.

If this is the case, then as a teacher I can no longer take the easy way out, insisting that I am only responsible for conveying the facts of sociology or theology or whatever the subject may be.  Instead, I must take responsibility for my mediator role, for the way my mode of teaching exerts a slow but steady formulate pressure on my students’’ sense of self and world.  I teach more than a body of knowledge or a set of skills.  I teach a mode of relationship between the knower and the known, a way of being in the world.  That way, reinforced in course after course, will remain with my students long after the facts have faded from their minds. 

When I read this I had an “oh wow” moment.  Not because it was new to me but because it so clearly articulated.  This is something that I deeply believe.  How I do something is as important as what I am doing – especially when it comes to how I engage others.

My teaching methodology invites a learning all by itself – a learning of culture – of worldview.  That culture/worldview invites students to view the facts of my teaching through a specific lens.

I so resonate with Palmers example around freedom.  If I teach about freedom with an attitude of seeing myself as the final authority I subliminally teach that my way is the only way…which informs what I really believe about freedom.  Namely, that you are free to believe what you wish as long as you agree with me.

This was the tone of my early faith.  It is something that I have been in the process of unlearning for decades.

But this principle is a lot bigger than me.  I see this everywhere.

I speak with organizational leaders, on a regular basis, that are constantly amazed that even though they tell their employees that they are encouraged to “think creatively” – they don’t.  They blame it on the “millennials” or “poor upbringing.”  Which may be at play.  But these same leaders are largely clueless as to how they are a part of the problem.  Namely, the “how” of their teaching does not correspond with the “what” of their message.  They say they want everyone’s best ideas, but only the ideas that support the view of the leader are deemed worthy.  All others are considered bad and belittled.

Rather than continue with a series of proclamations on the gap between what we say we want and how we behave I’ll simply close with a few questions for thought.

  • In what ways am I convinced that I’m helping others to learn and yet unintentionally (or intentionally) sabotaging their learning by my poor or inconsistent teaching methodology?
  • In what ways am I allowing my good intentions around a certain matter to keep me from evaluating my effectiveness in it?
  • How might I sit more curiously with an issue that I’m struggling with right now with this thought in mind?


To Know As We are Known/A Spirituality of Education, Parker J. Palmer.  Harper and Row, 1983.  PP. 29-30.

**Epistemology – the theory of knowledge, especially with regard to its methods, validity, and scope. Epistemology is the investigation of what distinguishes justified belief from opinion (Google dictionary).


Showing the Way


I recently decided to revisit some books on my shelf that impacted me years ago.  One of those was Donald Millers “Blue Like Jazz” .  I knew I had made the right choice when I read the Author’s Note prior to page one.

Miller writes…

I never liked jazz music because jazz music doesn’t resolve.  But I was outside the Bagdad Theater in Portland one night when I saw a man playing the saxophone.  I stood there for fifteen minutes, and he never opened his eyes.

After that I liked jazz music.

Sometimes you have to watch somebody love something before you can love it yourself.  It is as if they are showing you the way.

When I read that I thought, “What a great quote.”

Then I thought, “I wonder what others are being invited to love by my example?


Leadership and the Human Condition: An Unlikely Source of Insight on a Holy Day

journal cover-crop

What a strange place to find meaning on Ash Wednesday.

Today started the way most workdays do – taking in some insights from a vocational journal or book.  But on this day (Ash Wednesday) I was surprised when my vocational reading became holy for me.  Let me explain.

In the most recent issue of The Journal, a publication of the Kansas Leadership Center (KLC), writer Chris Green offers an opening assessment on the challenge around the topic of Gun violence in our society.  The bulk of the article centers around insights derived from the input KLC received around a survey done last year on the topic.  The goal was not to choose a side or fix the issue.  Instead, Green invited us to be awake to the “Barriers” that keep us from making progress – any progress.

As I neared the end of the article I was struck with his choice of words and how they resonated with me – in particular on this day — Ash Wednesday.  Although I’m relatively sure he didn’t intend for his writing to be seen as devotional or spiritual…well…read it for yourself.

All too often, it’s easier to expect other people to behave better than we’re willing to act ourselves.

We want others to be fair, trustworthy, unbiased and objective.  But it’s human nature to see the confirmation of what we already believe in trying to analyze the factual basis of a story, poll or research paper.  We spot others’ blind spots and fallibility far easier than we do our own.

The flaws that keep humans from being able to reason well shouldn’t stop people from entering into vigorous discussion.  But they are the reason to enter each interaction with humility and a willingness to extend grace.  So much of the dialogue that takes place in society on social media and elsewhere these days isn’t dialogue at all.  It’s score settling.  It’s a world of owning, getting owned and owning one’s self.  But how do you know if you’re learning anything?  How do you know if you’re gaining knowledge that will help you make the world of possibilities you see in your mind edge closer to reality?  

The world of human interaction is a messy place.  We should allow ourselves and others to be wrong, to make mistakes and to change our minds.  We should be forgiving when other people stumble or anger us.  Ask them to be forgiving of our own shortcomings, and own shoddy thinking or contradictory ideas.  Because the truth is:  We all mess up a bunch of the time.*



*Chris Green, The Journal, Winter 2019, p. 11

That’s It! Helping Your Team Get Energy in the Right Direction


“Why can’t people just do what I tell them?”

“Why don’t people just do what they should?  It’s not that hard.

The gap that often lies between how our employee or team are currently performing and where we would like for them to perform can feel ever present and often enormous.   No doubt, there are a host of things that are a part of this frustration.  But one of the issues that I often find present is the lack of clarity around what the win looks like.  Let me be clear – it is the work of the authority (supervisor) in any system to clarify what a win looks like.  I’m talking about the baseline – the starting place – the non-negotiables of what it means to effectively be about the work.  If not spelled out, we should not expect our employees to know what that is.  Yet, time after time, I find that when I ask those in authority about this I get a blank stare.

Communicating the win starts with clarified values and mission but it’s more than that.  It’s about the cultural non-negotiables.  The clearer the Authority can be on what the non-negotiables are the more the employee/s have the latitude to think creatively about how to accomplish them.  But if those non-negotiables are foggy expect there to be frustration for you – and them.

Stephen Covey tells a story about engaging his son in taking responsibility for the work of taking care of the family lawn.  As they began their work together Covey constantly reiterates with his son what a win looks like.  Green and Clean.  This was the baseline.  If the yard continues to make progress toward Green and Clean then we were going in the right direction.  This story is laced with some comical bumps along their journey toward progress but always with the clearly articulated focus on Green and Clean.  This was critical.

Once the authority has clearly articulated the baseline of what a win looks like it is incumbent that they keep the focus there.  Specifically – they must continue to reinforce when an employee’s efforts connect with the win.  It can be seductive to only point out when and employee misses the mark.  And, no doubt, there are times when clear feedback needs to come in order to provide protection, direction and order.  But once a baseline is given the goal must always be to move beyond it.  This requires a different kind of work – a work nuanced by a focus on leveraging and engaging strengths.  Why?  Because focusing on strengths not only brings encouragement to your team – it brings learning.

Consider the following excerpt from an article entitled The Feedback Fallacy in the most recent edition of the Harvard Business Review…

There’s a story about how legendary Dallas Cowboys coach Tom Landry turned around his struggling team.  While the other teams were reviewing missed tackles and dropped balls, Landry instead combed through footage of previous games and created for each player a highlight reel of when he had done something easily, naturally, and effectively.  Landry reasoned that while the number of wrong ways to do something was infinite, the number of right ways, for any particular player, was not.  It was knowable, and the best way to discover it was to look at plays where that person had done it excellently.  From now on, he told each team member, “we only replay your winning plays.”

Now on one level he was doing this to make his team members feel better about themselves because he knew the power of praise.  But according to the story, Landry wasn’t nearly as interested in praise as he was in learning.  His instincts told him that each person would improve his performance most if he could see, in slow motion, what his own personal version of excellence looked like.   

Whenever you see one of your people do something that worked for you, that rocked your world just a little, stop for a minute and highlight it.  By helping your team member recognize what excellence looks like for her – by saying, “That!  Yes, that!” – you’re offering her the chance to gain an insight; you’re highlighting a pattern that is already there within her so that she can recognize it, anchor it, re-create it, and refine it.  That is learning.”*

There is so much more that is a part of the systemic work of creating a high functioning employee/team.  I want to clarify that I am not implying that this work is easy or obvious.  But I am struck by how many times I find these pieces not only missing – but not thought about.  I would certainly offer this as a starting point for every CEO, VP, Manager or Supervisor.

This is your work.


*The Feedback Fallacy, Buckingham & Goodall, (HBR) Harvard Business Review, March/April 2019, pp. 98-100.

Samantha – The Power of a Compelling Why



Today, I made my weekly pilgrimage to the television set to watch one of my favorite shows, CBS Sunday Morning.  As usual, there was a moment in the ninety minutes that spoke to me.  It wasn’t one of the headline stories.  It was a much shorter story about what might be considered a small issue in a small community.

At the far end of Islington Road in Newton, Mass lives two year old Samantha Savitz.  She is deaf.  And for whatever reason, her community has decided that not being able to communicate with her, as she takes walks around the community with her parents, is not okay.  So, with the help of a hired instructor, a group of community members has decided to learn how to speak in sign language.  Yep – as a group – they are gathering in someone’s home, on their own time, to be tutored by a sign language teacher just so they can talk with Samantha.*

This story spoke deeply to me – and not just because it is a sweet story…which it is.

To me, this affirms something that I am continuing to become convinced of in my work with communities and organizations.  Unless there is not only a clear “why”, but a compelling “why” I just don’t see why anyone would waste their time and energy by giving their best selves and efforts to a company or community in order to help it move forward.

Generally speaking, just getting paid is not enough to get the best out of employees.

Generally speaking, just believing that your community should be a great place to live is not enough to get the best out its community members.

Generally speaking, just believing that people should love God is not enough to fill the pews each Sunday.

In my opinion, there’s got to be a why – and not just a clear why – a compelling why in order to really make progress.

But getting clear on purpose (be it individual or institutional) is hard.  Getting to the compelling part of purpose is even harder.  Why?  Here are just a couple of ideas…

First, none of us have time to think about deep purpose.  We just need someone to make the widgets.  We need someone to mow their lawn.  We need someone to volunteer in the Sunday School nursery.

Next, many of us have just not been schooled in thinking about deep meaning.  We pride ourselves in being “can-do” people.  Just get the job done and suck it up.

Simon Sinek says, “People don’t care what you do, they care why you do it.”  Whatever you think about that quote I (personally) think there is some truth to it.  The “why” of a matter…what I would call “purpose”… invites all of us to think more deeply about the things that really matter to us – and until things really matter I just don’t see how we’re going to be able to make progress around the stories we hunger to be told about us.

*Here is the link to the video: https://www.cbsnews.com/video/a-sign-of-the-times-2/

The CEO clarifies the WHY…always.


In Simon Sinek’s book Start With Why he states that when companies grow the role of the founder changes.  No matter what their new job description it remains the role of the CEO to clarify the “WHY” of their company’s existence.  Unfortunately, this work often gets lost in the shuffle.

Everything an organization says and does communicates the leader’s vision to the outside world.  All the products and services that the company sells.  All the marketing and all the advertising.  They all work to communicate this to the outside world.  If people don’t buy “what” you do they buy “why” you do it and if all the things happening at the “what” level do not clearly represent “why” the company exists then the ability to inspire is severely complicated. 

When a company is small this is not an issue because the founder has plenty of direct contact with the outside world.  Trusted “how” types may be in short supply and the founder ops to make a majority of the big decisions him or herself.  The founder or leader actually goes out and talks to the customers, sells the product and hires most if not all new employees. 

As the company grows, however, systems and processes are added and other people will join.  The cause embodied by an individual slowly morphs into a structured organization and the cone starts to take shape.  As it grows the leader’s role changes.  He will no longer be the loudest part of the megaphone.  He will become the source of the message that is to flow through the megaphone. 

When a company is small it will revolve around the personality of the founder.  There is no debate that the founder’s personality is the personality of the company.  Why then do we think things change just because a company is successful?  What’s the difference between Steve Jobs the man and Apple the company?  Nothing.  What’s the difference between Sir Richard Branson’s personality and Virgin’s personality?  Nothing. 

As a company grows the CEO’s job is to personify the “why”.  To ooze of it.  The talk about it.  To preach it.  To be a symbol of what the company believes.  They are the intention and what the company says and does is their voice.  Like Martin Luther King and his social movement the leader’s job is no longer to close all the deals.  It is to inspire.*

*Excerpt from Chapter 9 of “Start With Why”. Simon Sinek.

Baptism by Coffee – How a little spill can change our perspective

Coffee book

This morning I was enjoying a new book.  Not just any book.  It’s about adaptive leadership…one of my favorite topics.  It even has a personal note and signature to me from the author…a person I know and respect.  In a very real sense…this is a book above books for me.  Lots of positive meaning was connected with it that made its worth more than the topic of its pages.

So…I had picked up my reading this morning from where I left off yesterday…about the half way point of the book.  With reading glasses on and hot coffee sitting next to me I was already reengaged in the thoughts of how the principles applied to my life and situations around me.  It was good stuff.

And then it happened.  Reaching to pick up my coffee cup while reading I clumsily failed to lift the cup clear of the book and spilled coffee all over my bright new, shiny, signed book.

True confessions, my initial thoughts (and words) were not appropriate for printing here.  I quickly reached for a towel to mop up the mess and try to clean off the pages.  Disgusted in myself for being so clumsy I thought – how could I be so clumsy.

And then it hit me.

This is perfect.

No – really.  It’s perfect.

This written report – this prized possession – this thing that I viewed as so prized, so special, so valued – this thing that was so pristine and shiny had finally been knocked from its place of trophy status to a much more meaningful spot.  The place of field manual.  In a very real sense – this desecration by coffee was one of the best things that could happen to this polished report.

As I moved from aggravation to laughter (and I did) I found myself much less encumbered by a need to somehow hold this book with a sense of holiness.  It was now ready to take its place in the work it was intended – as a source of curiosity amidst the challenges of real life (and clumsy coffee spills).

I now find myself wondering what other shiny objects of my life could be helped by a little strategic baptism by coffee.

I invite you to join me in considering what might be helped by your own strategic coffee spill.  What might a slip of the coffee bearing wrist do to aid you in viewing your own catalog of shiny theories and plans with new eyes.  Maybe together, we can find ourselves less worried about the report itself and a bit more interested in wresting and experimenting with its application.

STUCK – A Poem

head in hands

There’s a tough conversation ahead.

And I hate it.

A conversation that’s waiting to be initiated.

The absence of that conversation is thwarting progress.

It’s clouding my path –

Clogging my mind –

Outside of my comfort zone.



words from the heart are needed.

For me.

For them.

But there are so many feelings.

Prickly feelings.

Volatile emotions erupting.

Emotions that seduce me to stir argument and self-justification.

Raising my defenses.

Angrifying my speech.

Is that the type of conversation I want?

Is that the type of conversation we need?

I tell myself I’m a good listener.

But it’s hard to hear anything over the loudness inside.

Though silent outwardly –

my inner decibels are deafening.

The drums bang.

What’s to be gained from the unleashing of my inner tsunami?

Who needs that?

So I hold back.

I stall.

I preoccupy myself with other things…

but not really.

I am consumed.

Surrounded on every side.

And the result?

More stewing.

More boiling.

It refuses to leave me.

Why is that?

Why do I cling to my stewing – my boiling?



…and again.

Why do I hold back from trying something different?

It’s so risky.

Too risky.

This is about so much more than a conversation.

This is about my desire to be respected.

To be valued.

To be right.

Better to do nothing than to be disrespected.

To be de-valued.

To be seen as wrong.

Am I right?


Am I?

I’m serious.  I’m not sure that I know anymore.


Is the possibility of progress worth these personal transgressions?


I don’t want it to be.

I want to be respected.


To be right.

As a result

the only pathway I see is to declare you wrong.

That is all I see.

I see nothing beyond that.

I’m not even sure I want to.

These are

my terms,

my demands.

my truth.

To settle for less would feel like an act of personal betrayal.

Why would I ever agree to entertain a different view?

Attempt to see the world your way?

Who would ever call that helpful?

Who would ever call that heroic?

Who would ever call that an act of leadership?

How dare them.

That may be good for others.


But not for me.

Not ever for me.


What a mess.

My Personal Values Journey – Next Value: RESPECT


In this season of personal values clarification, my second and final personal value is RESPECT.  Respect for the person – myself and others.  As I did with the first value, here is my attempt to articulate what I mean by RESPECT.

Respect – inherent value given to myself and others just because we exist.  The belief that all have capacity and worldview that are worthy of acknowledging.  The assertion that we all have a story that is worthy of hearing and being curious about and, because we do, each of us deserves some space to allow that story to be a part of the larger narrative.

In my case – respect is about the individual.  It is not about actions or opinions.

I may or may not choose to respect the actions or opinions of others.  I hear people say “I respect your opinion.”  I’m not sure, in all cases, that I do – nor do I feel obligated to.  What I do respect is a person’s right to have an opinion (or action).  I respect that there are experiences and worldview that have brought all of us to have an opinion.  But that doesn’t mean that I respect that thought or action.

Given enough time and learning, I may not even respect the opinions I feel convinced of today.  God knows there are opinions that I had years ago that I refuse to own today.  Therefore, the respect I value constantly struggles to manage the difference between the values of a person and the value of their opinions/actions.  Time gives all of us the opportunity to evolve in body, mind and heart.  No one needs that time more than I do.  It is time that I believe all of us deserve.

That is respect to me.

Supporting Values:  Collaboration, Trust, Diversity, Accountability, Boundaries, Clarity

Notes on respect from my living:

  • Listening better (listening to understand – not to be understood) generally equals more effective respect.
  • Stay curious longer. Resist the quick trigger to declare others infidels in the wake of your supposedly superior opinions.
  • Own your opinions – but own them in the same way that you hope others will own theirs – as a platform for further discovery. Not as a club to beat one another over the head with.
  • Protect yourself. Everyone doesn’t value respect as you do.  That is their choice.  As a result you must protect yourself in appropriate ways when faced with disrespect.  There is no value in self-deprecation at the hand of another who shows no respect.


With values articulated…what am I to do with them?

More to come.

Authenticity – A Ron Fisher Core Value

aging eyes

In my season of VALUES discovery the first value that emerged was Authenticity.  Honestly, it was no surprise.  This word has felt descriptive of me through all of my memorable life.  The more I held this value up to the light the more it continued to show itself as one of my CORE values.

As an exercise I decided to write a short treatise on what I meant when I said “I value authenticity.”  Below is that treatise.  This is nothing scientific.  It is merely a gathering of ideas that live inside of me around this value.  It’s my best attempt to spell out what I think and feel when I say “Authenticity matters to me.”  If you choose to read further please keep that in mind.

What is Authenticity to me? – A vulnerable candidness with myself.  Appropriate, humble self-transparency.  Based in the belief that my honesty with others begins with an honesty with myself.  Authenticity is about clarity with MY purpose – primarily for MY sake.  It is as much about acknowledging what I don’t know as it is about affirming what (I think) I do know.  Doing this requires being candid with my own confusion and self-doubt which is always with me.

Authenticity is not about self-criticism.  If I find myself here I have gone too far.  Neither is it about self-pity.  It is, however, about giving myself a break.  At the core of my authentic self is the declaration that I’m not all that…but neither am I nothing.  Therefore my higher invitation is to self-balance.

Authenticity is about ME being real with ME.  The end is a better self-diagnosis which puts me (and all of us) on a healthier path to progress.

Supporting Values:  Candid, Transparency, Forthright, Honest

A few lessons I’ve found helpful while living with this value that seem important to note…

  • Not everyone values authenticity as you do – deal with it. There will be moments when you find individuals (or groups) that do not value authenticity as you do.  No matter how much you think they should – check yourself.  You will have a tendency to get triggered when that happens.  Resist proclamations about their rightness or wrongness.  It is seldom helpful.  Instead, invite others (via curious questions) to explore their stance.  But realize that they may refuse to take that trip – and that may just be the way it’s going to be.
  • Definitions differ. Even though someone declares themselves as authentic – their definition of authenticity may not be (and probably won’t be) the same as yours.  Stay curious.
  • Don’t mistake authenticity for composure. Some may be significantly authentic in the midst of their lack of composure. Others may be significantly inauthentic in the midst of their composure.  How each of us choose to flesh out our authenticity in a given moment is our decision.  It is our act of leadership.  I can’t control how other people will choose to present themselves – but I CAN choose how I will present myself.  It is for that reason that being clear on my purpose, before I bring an intervention, is critical.
  • Protect yourself. As much as you would like to believe that deep and vulnerable authenticity is appropriate in every situation – it isn’t.  That doesn’t mean that some level of that authenticity can’t help many situations.  Find the balance.  Be purposeful about what should be revealed and what should not.  When trust is low take it slow.