taking higher ground

Hikers in mountains, circa 1995 from Flickr via Wylio

“Traveling down the high road can be a lonely experience.” ~ W. Brad Johnson

I started this post when reading for my one of my MA classes. It is almost spooky how life has confirmed much of what I wrote in the months since, even though I had totally forgotten about this post.

No matter how many years go by, I keep learning more about myself and the deeper, ulterior motives that affect my attitudes and actions.

So that we can learn together (I don’t like to do much of anything alone!), I am sharing some of these challenging ideas with you. This list comes from the first chapter of The Elements of Ethics by W. Brad Johnson. He is suggests that these are essential elements of integrity:

(**Fair Warning: This is not an easy list!)

  1. Become congruent – truthful with oneself and consistent at all times and in all relationships (Nothing easy here, but a key to people considering us “safe” and trustworthy.)
  2. Stay transparent – openness, frankness, full disclosure (activities, commitments, relationships) Evasive = Suspicious
  3. Make yourself accountable – No excuses. Take responsibility. Tell the truth.
  4. Invite peer review – Constructive feedback is our friend. Invite others to honestly review and evaluate. Without sugar-coating.
  5. Present your credentials and services accurately – No inflating or misrepresenting achievements, experiences or results.
  6. Ensure emotional and physical fitness – Admit fatigue, burnout, or life circumstances that impair best effort. Be alert of warning signs. Seek help.
  7. Protect confidential information – Think before you speak. Protect others’ privacy with vigilance. Avoid and stop gossip.
  8. Know your moral vulnerabilities – Invincibility is an illusion. Be self-aware of weaknesses. Let others help.
  9. Identify your private agendas – Guard against hidden agendas and wrong motives.
  10. Do not count the cost of integrity – There is a price: inconvenience, self-denial, social isolation, passive-aggressive attacks, persecution. Do the right thing anyway.
  11. Rectify missteps immediately – Don’t aim for perfection. Admit mistakes. Apologize. Laugh at yourself. Give grace to others.
  12. Stand your ground under pressure – Anticipate the pressure to compromise. Practice a response. Find others who can help you.
  13. Do not be a hypocrite – No pretense. No manipulation. No self-serving.

I especially related to #6, #8, and #11. I don’t like weakness. I want perfection. I know in my head it is impossible, but I still want it in my heart. This chapter helped me to recognize that desire for perfection is a stumbling block for me, rather than a help.

#10 is also good. In past jobs, I paid a price for integrity choices that surprised and hurt me. I don’t know why I thought it would be easy. I want to have more realistic expectations in the future and have a team who stands with me in those difficult decisions.

Ok… your turn! Which of these elements challenge you? Which are most important for your integrity? How do you take the high ground?


life story inspiration

Starbucks coffeeStarbucks is my coffee of choice. I always order the same thing – a “grande” house blend, bold, with no room for cream. Every now and then, I accompany my coffee with a healthy oatmeal or a not-so-healthy cinnamon scone. I enjoy the community atmosphere, the comfortable seating for reading or study, and becoming a “regular” when I frequent the same Starbucks for any length of time. I especially like feeling “known” when the barista begins to pour my personal choice before I even reach the counter.

Given my affection for the coffee, I was excited to read about the Starbucks story in a book about authentic leadership¹. A man named Howard Schultz created the Starbucks atmosphere we know today. Schultz wanted to offer a coffee-house with the community feel he had experienced in the espresso bars he visited in Milan, Italy.

“The reservoir of all my life experiences
shaped me as a person and a leader.”
                                              ~Howard Schultz

In addition to community, Schultz integrated other life values into the Starbucks culture. Schultz was born in 1957, and he grew up in Brooklyn, New York, living in the Bayview Housing Projects. As the son of a blue-collar delivery truck driver and a stay-at-home mom, finances were always tight, especially after his dad injured his ankle and lost his job and their health insurance. There was no workman’s compensation in those days, and an injured driver was useless and dispensable.

Those years of struggle etched deeply in Schultz’s memory and compelled Schultz’s vision to lead a company that valued and respected the staff and offered higher pay, stock options, and health care benefits even to part-time employees.

Schultz’s story built his character. From his mother, Schultz heard many times that he could do anything he wanted. When Schultz saw his father’s lack of success and accompanying bitterness, Schultz developed a fear failure and self defeat, and became driven to achieve and succeed.

“You must have the courage
to follow an unconventional path.”
                                        ~Howard Schultz

Over the years, Schultz intentionally “re-framed” his opinion of his father and chose to emulate his father’s integrity, work ethic and commitment to family. Schultz learned to appreciate his story of family hardship as the source of his values and his motivations, and to this day Schultz remembers his humble beginnings and intentionally integrates his story into his leadership and his company.

I am learning to “re-frame” many of my life experiences too; letting go of hurts and bitterness and choosing to emphasize and apply the positive character traits that I gained as a result of struggle and hard times.

Whenever I drink my coffee now, I try to remember how my life story can inspire my leadership.

What experiences from your life story inspire you?


¹More details of this story (and others) are found in the excellent book, True North: Discover Your Authentic Leadership by Bill George.

highlighting the defects

picstitchWhat a strange process!

The other day, my sister and I repainted an old dresser in preparation for her friend, Pam, to visit and “distress” it. We diligently chose the correct type of paint and special tools for the process. We then spent hours spraying and re-spraying to get a nice, smooth finish and hide the old color. We did our best to avoid drips and smudges and uneven spots.

Truthfully, we did not get the result we wanted. The new paint didn’t look smooth or even or anything close to perfect. We couldn’t make it look new.

Pam arrived. She is an expert furniture re-finisher… at least compared to us. Unconcerned with our paint job, she quickly set to work with her electric sander. She intentionally rubbed off our carefully applied paint. She focused on the areas where typical wear and tear appear. She sought out our drips and uneven spots and sanded there with extra attention. She explained that often the more worn the piece looks, the more valuable it is at the store.

As she sanded, I thought about how this process is much like my life. I sometimes try hard to paint over my imperfections and my worn out spots. I attempt to present a smooth, even finish in my attitudes and actions. I work to hide my weaknesses in character. I want to avoid mistakes, errors and the evidences they leave behind… and it doesn’t turn out that well.

On the other hand, I often appreciate a person who displays a few unique “worn spots” in their life. The vulnerability and authenticity of imperfections are often more beautiful than an attempt at false perfection. Sometimes, loving attention given to weak areas adds value. The people who come alongside and help us in that process are a treasure… and the defects become highlights.

How do you view the defects in your life?

spirituality and integrity for leaders

ID-10010934This week in my M.A. course, we discussed leadership competencies, specifically the need for spirituality and integrity for leaders.

Spirituality was defined as: centered, eternal awareness, moral concern, recognition of the sacred, meaning and purpose.

Integrity was defined as: oneness, wholeness, connectedness, all parts intersect and reflect the whole; you are who you claim to be.

I view these competencies as vital character traits and essential practices for an effective leader. I have experienced the negative consequences of leadership that lacked these competencies: spiritual manipulation, pride, selfishness, ego, false pretense, corruption, and debt. Sadly, I admit that sometimes I have been the one who caused those negative consequences.

Why do you think that spirituality and integrity are important for leaders?

On the other hand, a leader with spirituality and integrity competencies displays authenticity, emotional intelligence, and consistency in being, knowing and doing. An authentic leader earns trust; a leader with emotional intelligence builds healthy relationships; a leader with life and work consistency provides a safe and dynamic environment for productive action. In my organization we call this the “heart of the leader”. I want to be a leader known by these characteristics and practices.

How are you growing in spirituality and integrity competency?

Every one of my fellow students agreed that these competencies are crucial for leaders, although many admitted that sometimes our own character weaknesses or external pressures of urgency, cost, ease, etc. make it difficult to actually live this way on a consistent basis.

What pressures make it difficult for you to practice spirituality and integrity?

One of the students reminded us that the most helpful resource for strengthening this competency is vulnerable and honest accountability relationships. We need others in our life who can encourage us to make the right choices even when it is hard, and who confront us when we are making mistakes. Those people rarely just appear magically in my life. I need to take the initiative to seek them out, and then I need to have the openness to allow them to speak freely into my life.

Do you have accountability relationships in your life? 

Do you have other thoughts about spirituality and integrity for leaders? Please add a comment… I’d love to learn more from you!


Other resources:

More posts on similar topics: how is my “wake”?, what about results?, working against the tide

More on emotional intelligence: http://www.eiconsortium.org/measures/eqi.html

life is a story

maskEvery life is a story… Comedy. Drama. Action. Horror. Newscast.

My favorite part of our meetings this year is when each person took a few minutes to tell (a very brief version of) their life journey. Many made us laugh. Others made us cry. Some left us with our mouths open in disbelief. Each story was unique.

Some used pictures. Others told stories. Some communicated with confidence and creative presentations. Others simply read from their notes. Some were so nervous that their voice cracked and their knees literally trembled as they spoke… but they did it, and it was powerful.

I could relate to some of the stories; others were very, very different from my reality. Either way, I felt more connected to each one as I came to know them just a little bit better. Through our vulnerability, we were building community.

Pain permeated many of the stories; loneliness, illness, rejection, death. Some told of shame or fear, lost dreams or broken hearts. For a few the pain was fresh and raw; a story being told for the first time. For others, the sting is gone now, and they are living a new life. I often heard a thread of grace, redemption, and hope.

Although I have always been a “people person” and have enjoyed meeting many different types of people, I feel like this year I have come to appreciate each person’s unique story more than ever. I have especially treasured those people who are open and real with me, allowing me to see their brokenness and their imperfections… and those who have invited me to share their new adventures and their joys.

It is sometimes more comfortable and natural for us to compare, or hide, and isolate ourselves from others, but I recognize each life is valuable and lived to be told. In a safe place, with a commitment to growth, our lives are a priceless gift when shared with others. As our lives intersect, they are like the threads in a beautiful tapestry… not to be hidden, but to bring warmth and beauty and richness to our world.

Do you share your (real) life with others? Are you a safe place for others to share their story?

appreciating (real) family

family real compfight
I spoke twice this week about my heritage and my family. I am also enjoying a great visit from my sister with her husband and daughter. These two experiences have caused me to reflect on the many ways that my family has formed my identity.


My family was not and is not perfect. There are difficult aspects of the past that left emotional and relational scars, over-compensating behaviors, and “hot buttons” that ignite in some expected and some not-so-expected circumstances. Thankfully, I have learned to remember the positive and character building moments… and to leave the negative and hurtful memories behind. I am so grateful for faith, friends, an awesome husband, and a few great counselors, who have helped me to move forward, acknowledging the past’s influence but freeing me from its potential limitations on my future.


These days I am gaining a greater appreciation for my sisters and my brother as we enter the new stage of caring for our elderly parents. It is not an easy time for us; we have to work very hard at integrating many different viewpoints, opinions, geographical availability, ideas, and personalities into choices and decisions. Although we are older, childhood attitudes and reactions resurface. My siblings are teaching me new ways to love and yield my own interests – this is good growth for me.


The real challenges faced in my marriage and in raising my (amazing!) children have helped to keep me humble and honest about my inadequacies, my insufficiency… and have engraved on my heart the incredibly powerful truth and grace that we received over the years. I am very grateful for the authentic and loving relationships that we have because of how we have worked through difficulties and pain together. I did not anticipate or enjoy the struggles – if I could have, I would have chosen to avoid them – but I am eternally thankful for the redeeming hope that we have experienced. I look forward to whatever the future might hold for us.

I’ve heard that sites like Facebook can cause depression when people compare their real lives with the unrealistic “perfect” lives that we assume from superficial statuses and photographs. I know, from experience, that everyone has a real story behind the smiles; the real story is full of tears and hurt… and forgiveness and reconciliation… and healing and hope. Real is rich.

What do you appreciate about your family?
How are you handling “real” life together?

are you happy to see me?

My dog Mandy loves me. She wags her whole body as soon as she sees me. She dances a little jig, and if I would let her, she would joyfully do a five foot vertical leap to kiss me smack on the lips. Sometimes I forget to feed her on time, sometimes her water dish goes dry, sometimes I don’t give her any attention all day… It doesn’t matter; I don’t deserve it, but she is always happy to see me. 

People aren’t like that.

Henry Cloud, Patrick Lencioni and others state that one of the most important elements in relationships is trust… and I have to deserve it; I have to build it; I have to earn it. I have learned a lot about trust from Henry Cloud’s book, Integrity.

  • The first way that I earn trust is by connecting authentically with others. People feel like I connect with them if I listen for understanding – really hear them, with empathy and validation for their concerns. Connection happens when the people I work with feel that I truly value them, that I care, that I invest in them. I will not always do what they suggest, but they know I will hear them out, consider their ideas, and never discount how I affect them with my actions.
  • Trust is also built by looking out for other’s interests. Cloud calls this “extending favor”. In other words, I am “watching their back”, and I am on their side. That doesn’t mean that I don’t have goals or performance standards, but it means that I will do all I can to help, train, encourage or provide resources so that others are successful. If I have built trust, they can be confident that I will always speak well of them, and I will always speak up for them. They never have to worry that they might “get on my bad side” or that I might turn on them.
  • I also build trust by balancing power and vulnerability. Others can trust me when they see that I make things happen and get things down. I earn trust when I am competent and responsible, and when I follow through with what I said I would do. On the flip side, I also need to acknowledge my mistakes and faults at times. When I am authentic about my own challenges, others gain courage to face their own. When I am honest about my weaknesses and needs, others can identity; they are often willing to help, and we build more trust in the process.

Since trust is the basis of relationships, I need be constantly evaluating how I am doing in my relationships at work and at home. Am I connecting? Do they know I care? Do they know that I am “for” them?  Can they depend on me to get things done? Have I been real with them?

Are they happy to see me?

How do you build trust? How have others earned your trust?

(** If you enjoyed this post, you might also like “how’s my wake?” – more from Henry Cloud’s book, Integrity.)

authentic – my word for 2012

Lots of people are picking a defining word for this next year… so I decided to ask God to give me one too.  This is what I heard – AUTHENTIC – my word for 2012.

                                     Authentic means: not false or copied; genuine; real.                               Also entitled to acceptance or belief because of agreement with known facts or experience; reliable; trustworthy and true to one’s own personality, spirit, or character.

authentic emotions – We are going through a lot of change this year – moving from our 17+ year international home in Mexico back to the States. This huge change creates anticipation and loss. In the next months, I want to be authentic about what I feel – not pretend to feel more than I do…not pretend to feel less… It is not easy for me to say good-bye’s; sometimes I want to stuff the pain. This year I want to genuinely grieve and let people know how much I have appreciated their impact in my life and how much I will miss them.

authentic fears – Change is hard. I am often afraid that I will not measure up to new expectations; I won’t have something worthwhile to contribute to new situations; I won’t know enough for the task. I wonder if I will “fit” in the new place; will I like it? Usually I control and conquer those fears and take on the challenge anyway, but this year I would like to be more real about the process and the struggle I go through.

authentic needs – I don’t like to feel stupid, uninformed or un-involved in important causes (a bit of a pride issue here?). I like to do things well, and I don’t like having to ask for help. The truth is, however, that I have a lot to learn, and there are many who can help teach me. I want to read more this year and ask more questions. I want to discuss what I am reading with others and learn from them. I want to make difference with my life, and I want to do it together with others. I will need to honestly admit my needs to do that.

authentic me – I want people to like me and enjoy time with me. I want people to ask my opinion and read what I write.  Sometimes I pretend to be more like others – and less like the real me – so that they will like me. Sometimes I want to believe that I have it all together instead of considering what others actually see in me. Sometimes I want to be like someone else, but in 2012 I am going to work on being “ok” with being me – true to my personality, spirit and character.

authentic relationship with God – This will be the most important area and the basis for all the issues above. It should be easier, since He already knows what I am really like. I wonder if God shakes His head and rolls His eyes when He sees me faking it? Or does He cry… wanting me to just contentedly accept how He made me? I plan to have some very authentic talks with Him this next year about that.

How about you?  Want to be more AUTHENTIC with me this year?  Or what is your word(s) for 2012?

I’d love to learn from you!

multicultural team or tension?

As our world becomes more connected globally, today’s organizations need an atmosphere that encourages a multicultural work environment. However it is a big mistake to simply put a group of international leaders on a team and expect them to achieve great results. There will be many differing values on an international team, and we need to help our leaders understand and appreciate each other in order to work together more effectively.

One great tool I have found is a book I am reading for my M.A. in Global Leadership  – When Cultures Collide: Leading Across Cultures, by Richard D. Lewis. A helpful explanation of general nationality differences divides the world’s cultures into three groups: Linear-Actives, Multi-Actives and Reactives.  

See if you recognize yourself and/or some of your co-workers or teammates in one these groups!

Linear-Actives Common characteristics of this group are affinity for schedules and plans, preference for objective data and information, task focus, less emotional and relational connections. Communication with Linear-Actives will be direct, to the point, and optimistic, often decorated with humor and idiomatic phrases.  They are quite linear in their view of time and appreciate punctuality.  Promotion at work is a result of hard work and productivity. They are known to do very well with small talk at dinner parties, but prefer all business during meetings. This group is the smallest of the three, with around 600 million members.

Multi-Actives  The Multi-Active group has over three billion members, making it the largest group. The Multi-Actives have an extroverted and loquacious manner, multitasking capabilities, and interdependent, net-working relationships. Conversation with a Multi-Active is passionate, animated, descriptive and personal. Schedule is subordinate to relationship and the event of the moment. Multi-Actives are stereotypically known for arriving late for appointments and for eating dinner late into the evening. Entry and advance in the workplace is often a result of family and/or other loyalty connections. Compassion and human understanding motivate Multi-Actives to action.

Reactives The third group that Lewis describes is the Reactive group. They have over one and one-half billion members around the world. This group is typically quiet and reserved, good listeners, respectful of others’ needs and desires, principle oriented and very concerned with saving face in relationships. They have a cyclical view of time. Communication will likely be more formal, polite, complimentary, with plenty of periods of silence. Reactives are known for their extravagant gift giving and their harmonious relationships.

Recognition of different national culture values is just one step toward understanding. There are many other cultural value differences that factor into team relationships: age, gender, personality, profession, etc.  Our authentic respect for each other and our sincere willingness to make adjustments to each other are key components to international team success. More about how to do that in a future blog…

With which group do you identify?

What has your experience been like in international settings?  

Please share a comment so that we can learn together!

coffee as a way of life


As I started research for this blog, I learned a bit about coffee… and I’ve decided that I want my life to resemble a strong, rich cup of coffee…

Getting the beans to the cup is a process. The coffee berries must ripen on the bush, just as I must “ripen” – mature (hence the name for the blog!). Since the coffee plant and berries are often attacked by numerous pests (over 900 beetles, mites, snails, etc), care is essential – special treatments, environment management and pruning. I, too, often experience attacks during my maturing process and need to protect, change, and “cut” in order to grow. It is an investment in the final product.

Workers harvest the seeds (picked – traditionally by hand, fermented to remove the flesh, and dried), and then roast them. This reminds me of God choosing me and taking me through my life’s trials and “fires”. Roasting is done using different methods at varying degrees depending on the desired flavor… Isn’t it interesting how God has individually designed each of our lives, since we are each a unique creation.

The berries are next ground (a burr mill uses revolving elements to shear the bean; an electric grinder smashes the beans with blunt blades moving at high-speed; and a mortar and pestle crushes the beans… sometimes I feel like I am in a burr mill or mortar!), and finally brewed. Don’t you find that the most authentic and attractive people have been “broken” and “washed” through the experiences of their lives?

Finally the coffee is prepared and enjoyed in a variety of ways – often together with others…bringing energy and pleasure to many. I, personally, like mine black and bold.

How do you like your coffee?

What is it that you want to represent your life?