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Leading with Wisdom – Book Review

Jann Freed, a leadership speaker at our recent Women and Leadership Lunch, is the author of Leading with Wisdom: Sage Advice from 100 Experts. Dr. Freed interviewed over 100 leadership experts, also referred to as sages, and distilled their advice into the following eight leadership practices. She writes that leaders:wisdom

Know who they are

The bottom line is that it’s hard to be an inspiring leader and breathe life into people if you are not clear on your own purpose, vision, mission, and values.

Don’t let ego win

Leaders don’t arrive at being the perfect leader — or even person for that matter. As leaders, if we discover our strengths, are aware of our dark side (and we each have one), and consistently think about the legacy we are leaving with our decisions and behaviors, then we should be creating an environment where people want to work.

Here is a chart from this chapter that reminds us about a healthy ego, the one we typically don’t think about but worth analyzing when we strive to overcome the dark side of our ego:

Healthy Ego Neurotic Ego
Observes Denies or dissects
Assesses Judges and blames
Learns from mistakes Repeats old mistakes
Lives in the present Lives in the past or the future
Is free from compulsions Is compulsive and obsessive

Connect with empathy and compassion

While it sounds trite, it’s true, ‘the only constant is change’ — and change is accelerating daily.

Because of this nature of change, leaders find themselves in situations where people fear change or grieve what has already changed. Recognizing that communicating with those in the process of change is needed. There are exercise at the end of this chapter that help people come to terms with their own fear of death so they can truly find compassion and empathy.

Admit mistakes fearlessly-

Leaders face times when they must admit to not knowing the answers. Admitting this and seeking others’ input requires humility, and it’s an important milestone in a leaders development. In fact, I think one of the greatest strengths of a leader is to admit mistakes and ask for forgiveness if someone has been hurt unnecessarily.

Freed continues:

When I asked the sages how to best prepare leaders in these uncertain times, a strong theme in the responses was learning to forgive ourselves as a pathway to greater empathy and compassion. Without an example of forgiveness from the top, workplaces become toxic as grudges, resentment, anger, and bitterness trickle down and snuff out positive emotions in the workplace.

Embrace Community-

The word community highlights its meaning of being one in unity. Effective leaders think of those in their organization or department or team as a family or group holding onto the same rope. When someone pulls on the rope, all people holding on are affected.

This chapter includes exercises for building community such as asking questions to get people to know one another better or meeting with people one at a time.

Leaders Model Resilience-

One of the characteristics of sages is staying power. A sage has endured obstacles and recognizes the importance of coping mechanisms and ways of being resilient.

When Dr. Freed probed the sages for how to model resilience and five suggestions emerged:

  • Go on a retreat
  • Get creative
  • Keep learning
  • Celebrate small wins
  • Develop a practice

The chapter lists some specific details like books to read, a list called the “Stop-Doing List,” and seeking out a role model to keep learning.

Leaders Create Healthy Work Environments-

There are three important activities for promoting a positive climate among employees—compassion, forgiveness and gratitude. Kim Cameron, author of Positive Leadership reported research that ‘companies that scored higher on these activities were found to have performed significantly better than others in a study across 16 different industry groups.

Suggestions for healthy work environments include reviewing the way rewards are aligned with the intentions of the company. For example if the company wants to have long-term growth but rewards for quarterly earnings there is a mismatch.  Another suggestion from this chapter includes embracing the power of storytelling to build a culture of community.

Live their Legacy-

As leaders, whether you realize it or not, you are leaving a legacy with every decision or action you take.

Storytelling shows up in this chapter too as a way for leaders to connect actions to purpose.

As you can see by reading quotes from each chapter, this book is loaded with wisdom. We hope you’ll take time to read the book for yourself.

Graphic of CultivateSeeds of Civility is a blog that is created by The Wallace Centers of Iowa.  We cultivate conversations about leading (and developing emerging leaders) with civility.

Let Us Change the Eyes Which See Reality


In a recent visit to Indiana, the current President of the United States was asked about civility in politics. President Obama responded,

If you want more civility, then you vote for folks who are civil and who are making arguments and using logic and presenting evidence, not just somebody who is popping off.

Logic and evidence are good, however, the workplace is unique. For most of us it is not about making speeches and rhetoric. For the everyday person, the workplace is personal.  It is where we spend most of our day.  If we want it to not be toxic like our political space we need to speak up and listen in the midst of conflict in order to get work done.

Poise is the mindset we take when problems arise. One mindset that is helpful is to decide to get good at conversation. Conversation is a give and take exchange the can open our eyes to another person’s perspective. The quote below, reminds us that our only power to change things for the better comes from our own perspective. If  we don’t like the reality we see, we can change our perspective.

Since we cannot change reality,
let us change the eyes which see reality.

-Nikos Kazantzakis

In the post titled Compassion: An Antidote to Incivility, we wrote about the concept of fight or flight. Poise comes from an awareness that we are standing on fragile ground when there is conflict. Without thinking we will retreat or react because of our brain’s ability to protect us.

Here is a workplace example of a conversation that maintains poise and supports a co-worker, first to be seen, and then to see others people with new eyes.

Person A:  People from (another department) are lazy and rude. We always have to redo the work that they should be doing.

Person B: Are you frustrated about something in particular?

Person A:  Yes, when a customer calls they complain about (another department). If they took the time to do it right in the first place, we wouldn’t have the call.

Person B: I can see why you are frustrated. What have you tried to do to make it better?

Person A:  I complained to the manager but ____ is a lazy @#%& too!

Person B:  Bummer. I wonder if there is another reason the time isn’t being spent on the customer in the first place? 

Person A:  Yeah, maybe there is some rule about limiting the time with each customer.

Person B:  Perhaps. Do you ever see anyone from ___ on break? Maybe you could ask them what it is like?

Person A:  Yes, but I don’t see what good that will do?

Person B:  I don’t know either but it would be interesting to know what you find out. Let me know after you talk. 

Read the conversation again and notice two approaches:

Curiosity: Person B used mostly questions to approach the person speaking.

Intention: Person B had the intention to first affirm the speaker and then to use questions to broaden the perspective of the other person.

If Person A was speaking from a mindset of “fight,” the approach would be to either prove the speaker wrong or to tell them the right way to do it.

If Person A was coming from a place of “flight,” they would excuse themselves.

In times of emergency, telling a person how to do something is the best approach. Or if there is simply not time to engage in a conversation, excusing oneself works well. When there is time, engaging in a strong powerful conversation is better than just letting the conversation become a complaint or gossip session. Soon we will be sharing more about the research that tells us that complaining and gossip lead to a lot of negative results.

Do you agree? Do you think taking time to engage in conversation to better understand the perspective of others can make a difference? If so, let us know.

Graphic of CultivateSeeds of Civility is a blog that is created by The Wallace Centers of Iowa.  We cultivate conversations about leading (and developing emerging leaders) with civility.

Passive, Assertive, Aggressive: Three Ways to Deal with Disappointment

Raise your voice, not your wordsThere are three ways to deal with disappointment.

Passive:  We notice an event or relationship that bothers us or feels disappointing, but we choose not to speak up. We are valuing the rights of others over our own.  That works in certain situations, yet it can become a pattern or a way of responding that is not helpful to us.

Assertive:  We choose to engage in a conversation and explain our perspective. We think about the rights of others and about our rights. This is a mindful, balanced approach that can become a strong civility practice.

Aggressive:  We speak up in a way that values our rights above others.

In an article titled, What is Assertiveness? Dr. Mark Ettensohn writes:

When thinking about assertiveness, it is helpful to remember the story of Goldilocks and the Three Bears. Like Goldilocks in the story, being assertive is a matter of finding the happy medium between two extremes. In this case, assertiveness lies somewhere between being passive and being aggressive.

One way to consider your own approach for dealing with disappointment is to think about the last time you experienced poor customer service. Which of the three situations is most like your experience?

  • I got frustrated and ended up telling others but didn’t say anything to the business or the people who could actually meet my needs.
  • I asked for a supervisor to explain what happened and my preferred resolution.
  • I got upset and started speaking to the customer service person and blaming them.

If your most recent experience was the first or the third response, take time to reflect. Is this your normal pattern?

When we build the skill of assertiveness over a more passive or aggressive approach at work we start to build a culture of mindfulness and civility.

Dr. Ettensohn writes:

Learning to be assertive can be difficult, especially if you’ve fallen into the habit of engaging in cycles of passivity and aggression. Often, people attempting to make changes in their behavior will encounter feelings of discomfort when they try new things. They may also notice that others resist their attempts to change established relationship dynamics. This is perfectly normal and is usually a sign of growth.

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