Heat and Humanity: On your mark

For many of us, life’s “big wheel” has not only kept on turning but seems to be spinning with a dynamo hum much faster than we ever expected or imagined. And with the seventh decade of my life quickly approaching, one of the issues occupying my attention is how I share my life experiences with the generations coming after me, knowing there is truth to Will Rogers’ famous quote, “Good judgment comes from experience, and a lot of that comes from bad judgment.” Adding to the mix is not wanting others to drive into life’s roadside ditches in which I’ve often found myself stuck. It’s the timeless tension between wanting to assist someone while at the same time knowing that perhaps letting them climb and fall can be the best way for them to learn.

So what if a young person has little to no training and limited life experiences in things that could prepare them for positions of responsibility like leading or managing a team, or even participating as a successful team member?

Where does one start laying a solid foundation upon which to build a successful, fulfilling life and career working with others? My point of view begins (and ends) with the recognition of the Divine, the Unmoved Mover, the Godhead/Creator, the Wellspring of all things compassionate and benevolent, the very things upon which fulfilling, successful relationships are established. After all, no man is an island, and cooperating and working with others to meet mutual needs is about as good as it gets, especially in a more-for-me, dog-eat-dog world. Beyond a spiritual rock upon which to stand and apart from the specifics of one’s technical skills in a chosen field, how does one begin to grow and develop truly exceptional personal skills?

For starters, I’ll recommend what I believe to be a few essential, non-optional reads, the first being Viktor Frankl’s “Man’s Search For Meaning.” Who better to frame a life perspective than one who began as a brilliant neurologist and psychiatrist only to be interned in a Nazi death camp?

Frankl lost many of his family in the camps yet retained his compassion and interest in human nature throughout his horrific imprisonment. He survived and went on to be become one of the world’s most respected psychologists offering his perspective on the “why and how” to overcome adversity and face life’s inevitable challenges while finding meaning and purpose even in suffering. I highly recommend it as a foundational building block regardless of one’s age or station in life.

Next on my list of essentials is the timeless, brilliant work of Dr. Thomas Gordon, specifically his “Leader Effectiveness Training,” the Magna Carta of partnership relations, problem solving, and conflict resolution. Even after 30 years, I personally continue to read, study, and refer back to this seminal work. Tom Gordon first proved the value of his theories and methodologies during his service in the Army Air Force during World War II when he created an experimental pilot training program to deal with the problem of too many students failing or “washing out” due to the instructors’ “my way or the highway” attitudes. This was during a critical pilot shortage and the system was flunking out pilots at a rate that put thousands back on the nation’s highways instead of in its flyways.

Over the next several decades, the success of his methods led to his books being published in 32 languages and selling over 7 million copies. The genius of Tom Gordon lies within is his early recognition that collaborative relationships can accomplish more, cost less, and thrive longer than the traditional, autocratic models that had been in place for generations. Rather than being a sterile, academic exercise in Kumbaya hoohaw, Tom Gordon laid out a practical, systematic process by which one can drastically improve their skills of learning, listening, and leading without having to resort to threats or trying to use one’s power or position. Make no mistake, his system and methods in no way undermine the position or weaken the power of a leader. On the contrary, by tapping the collective wisdom and experience of the group, Gordon’s proven methods boost team engagement and amplify respect for and eagerness to follow their leader, the very definition of leader effectiveness. An added bonus is the minimization of resistance and disengagement caused by miscommunication. Finally, when conflicts inevitably arise the Gordon system teaches one how to engage in win-win problem solving providing the best opportunity for meeting mutual needs.

In the future, I’ll offer more suggested reads for those beginning their personal march down the road of success. Drs. Frankl and Gordon provide two, significant first steps. n


Stephen ‘doc’ Watson is a consultant and trainer specializing in conflict management and customer relations.