Sunday, October 19, 2008 sweet the sound. (And the question of leadership).

Disclosure: This entry, like my others, lacks a discrete organization, structure, and logical flow (things that govern how I operate at work). Rather, this is just a stream of consciousness, that starts in talking about California, then goes onto the question of Leadership.

Do you know the feeling of having a great love in life, but thinking that now is not the right place and time? But that for some reason, whether of professional opportunity, personal growth, or mere circumstance, you must be separated? Yet regardless, you miss it's warm embrace, the longing, and pure joy you have in that individual's company?

Well, that's really how I feel about California, and all the loved ones I have there, familia and friends.

I ask my other California natives that are spread out on the L-EAST Coast, and many of them have a similar feeling that is frighteningly similar. It's not homesickness, where we simply miss the familiarity of their stomping ground. Rather, its quite a confident feeling of BELONGING somewhere, where our passion, commitment, and purpose are tied to a physical space and community. I just appreciate and connect with the atmosphere: the year-around 70 degree weather; the reliable sunshine and blue skies (above the LA smog); the green rolling hills and majestic mountains; the never-ending deserts; vibrant cities; diverse communities; relaxed pace; the peaceful line where the ocean and blue sky become one far in the distance; the really good taquerias and boba shops; driving down the 101 with the window down. All of these things I love. Not to mention my dear family in So Cal (and Vegas, which is practically LA), and my support network of high school friends who mostly stayed home, and my college friends, of which probably 75% stayed in the Bay and LA.

And my love for the area was rekindled in the last two weeks, where I made to separate trips to the Bay Area, one 36 hour trip for recruiting, and then two days later, returned for Stanford Homecoming weekend. And despite the exhausting 5-hour flights (including two red-eyes) and the 4 hours of sleep that I averaged during my trip, it was so very energizing. I loved walking around campus as I did for four years, and the passion and purpose I cultivated during those years was rekindled. I remembered how bold and ambitious I used the think about things, with a pie in the sky perspective, as opposed to the overly pragmatic, incremental, day-to-day thoughts I have today, related to daily meetings, project delverables and deadlines.

Back at Stanford homecoming, a highlight was attending a roundtable with a star-studded cast of alumas and affiliates. Moderated by Tom Brokaw, on the panel was Professor David Kennedy (revered history expert and my frosh advisor), Jeff Raikes of the Gates Foundation, Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kennedy, Kavita Ramdas of the Global Women's Fund, Congressman Xavier Becerra, and (UGH!) Carly Fiorina (former HP CEO, but now a thoughtless airhead advisor to the McCain campaign. I think Sarah Palin's depth of thinking has got to her!).

Anyway, after some superficial banter among the panel about the crises of our day, in terms of financial meltdown, war and international conflict, climate change, poverty and social inequality, political polarizations, etc., the panel then dug deeper on the question of leadership in facing these challenges and opportunities. Here are a random collection of points that really resonated with me, and my stream of consciousness reflection on them. (and if there are any colleagues in the audience, NO, this list is NOT MECE!).
  • We need to think about leadership not just as the individual, but as the collective, brought up by Kavita. Indeed, I agree that we put too much faith in singular men and women, be in Obama or McCain the men, or the head of a church or CEO of a company, when these folks are just symbols and figureheads of the organizations full of people and talent that really drive the whole ship forward. And when we put all faith in one imperfect human being, it can all crumble down. I personally have seen this very issue particularly acute in the public sector, while makes it very hard to sustain positive change across elections and administrations. Leadership is not a knight and shining armor, but it's from the guy in the back room, with his sleaves rolled up, getting the job done.
  • Our investment priorities. We need to reallocate our priorities. Xavier spoke of comparison in that for every 100 bucks we spend on weapons, if we spend only 1 buck on education, every child in the world would have access to a decent education. (I forget the exact stat/comparison). But just went to show that we spend so much money and effort on conflict, militarization, prisons, etc. when would could be preventing a lot of these issues on the front end by helping to create a better baseline access to education, in America and abroad. And the fact that we have to use so many weapons and coercive means reflects the hypocrisy of participatory democracy, as stated by Kavita. As a taxpayer, I agree that our electeds need to be aware of ROI on their spending.
  • Overcoming cynicism by talking to real people. Actually one of the few good ideas brought up by Carly, but that of most folks being jaded and overwhelmed by the BS of politicians, pundits, the media, and the political machine. However, when you talk to normal blue collar working folks, you'll find a common sense perspective and also critical state of need that is very inspiring. I too especially living in DC have become jaded about the system, but when I think about my purpose and work, I am reminded of the people, issues, communities that are so inspirational and motivating.
  • Leadership beyond the title and corner office. Restating and interpreting what several panelists mentioned, but leadership is not just the BS power status and paygrade of individuals. But rather, its an ability that is demonstrated through perspective, work ethic, commitment to others, strength, courage. And we can find single mothers, international aid workers, city teachers, and other everyday folks who demonstrate greater leadership some of our corporate executives and elected officials. And I sometimes lack respect for many of the well-paid, tenured folks I've encountered in the working world, who despite their deep 6 and 7 figure salaries make me realize that I never want to become like them when I grow up. I'm disappointed when I see a lack of inspirational leadership, vision, and passion by those individuals who are running society's most influential organizations.
  • "You know it when you see it." as DMK said, like Justice Powell's description of pornography. You can write about it, lecture about it, debate it, but at end of day, its an indescribable intrinsic quality hard to quantify and analyze.
  • To be believed, not just heard. America is often the loudest among the pack, so its often heard, but with out demaged credibility, we are much less often heard.
  • See challenges as opportunities. As stated by Jeff of Gates, you can't be confined by the seemingly impossible. Indeed, I think that conventional wisdom is not only the most boring source of authority, but also the most dangerous. Only with greenfield, open/crazy thinking does a better way emerge. Innovation.
  • The press sucks. Yes, the media is the easy scapegoat. I mean, we need the free press to inform the masses, but when commercial pressures prohibit it from giving due care and process to the complexity of issues, its hard for average folks to see beyond the simple black and white of things. Its not just good and evil, black and white, Obama and McCain. The dumbing of America is a large result of 15 second soundbytes, but hopefully the net will help improve people's literacy and critical thinking ability.
  • The personal is political. Kavita reminded us that this came as part of the pro-choice campaign and civil and women's rights in the 70s. It still rings true, when it comes to questions of rights, responsibilities, and privileges that we have as indvidual Americans that make us concerned and involved in the political process. For me, a lot of it is the state of urban and minority America. For others, it's the quality of air they breathe, the right to marry who they want, the crime in their backyard, etc.
Either way, all of these points and messages were very thought provoking, and gave me a bunch of questions. Am I cultivating my own leadership ability? Am I improving my vision, credibility, conviction to passion, courage, pragmatism, empathy, team building commraderie, coaching of others, saying the right message, strategy, ability to reduce things to bare essence, usage of humor and light-heartedness to connect with folks, my humility, ability to take risks/make the bet/hit the card? Am I making decisions based on the impact and meaning for myself and others, or are finances having too much consideration? I must continue to ask whether my work, my personal life, my activities are advancing these abilities and priorities.

I am always fulfilled when I leave an experience, and have more questions than answers.

However, to return to the point on which I begun this entry, there is the question of returning to my motherland, California, which I love so much. The question is not if, but when.


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