A Reflection on the Odyssey of Chairing

3 Comments July 3, 2010 / Posted in Mindful Business, Mindful Leadership
Keepers of the Flame 2010 - Boulder, CO

Keepers of the Flame 2010 - Boulder, CO

June was my 24th year as a Vistage Chair. I have been blessed to know this group of men and women who do the work I do. The people pictured above have all been doing the work of helping leaders of small and mid-sized companies develop and transform themselves professionally and personally. It is about helping them develop and own their unique contribution to their people, their communities and in the wider picture the world.

What follows is my reflection on the work I do as part of my own transformation in sharing my own contribution of service, transformation and community.

A Reflection on the Odyssey of Chairing:
Are You Up To The Journey?

Chairing is about the original definition of Competition. Competition is “seeking with another” the quality of being the best at what one is or is doing. It wasn’t about beating another with the other being the loser. It was about who was the best at a moment in time and did one push the other to do what at one time was thought humanly impossible. The Greeks call it: Arete. We’re back to the “those climb highest who lift as they go.”

Chairing from my very beginning was about “seeking with.” I love the story that is often repeated. One Chair asks another chair to send them a template they’ve just heard about on Chairnet. The Chair receives it and thanks the other Chair for the great template only to have the other Chair email back that they got it from them 5 years ago. They just made some of their own embellishments to it. Chairing has always been about Kaizen: continuous improvement.

That got me to thinking about our lives as Chairs. We are so much more than Chairs as proven by our lives before becoming Chairs. However the vocation of Chairing, although it may be seen by the corporate entity as: professional Business Coach, is a calling because one in so many ways has to start anew.

The journey of a Chair is the unity of the contribution to the Vision, Mission and Values that were first modeled by Bob Nourse, It is also the diversity and unique contribution of each and everyone of us. We are the same in our own unique contribution.

Each of us contributes in our own way as we work out our purpose and meaning in the second half of life. Each of us having succeeded in the first half as measured by the standards of our culture and society. Chairing, for me, is about our own transformation as we contribute to the transformation of those around us while still being measured by a corporate standard.

Mary Oliver’s poem talks about our starting out. The leaving of a life that was home and now the odyssey of going home. It a starting out for new Chairs that in their former and/or continuing profession is successful.

Like Odysseus having conquered Troy after 10 years of fighting with his Trojan Horse ploy (faking leaving and feigning defeat), we set off toward our Ithaca only to find that what worked in the past no longer works. The one-eyed Cyclops has an eye for sight but no eye for insight. Odysseus’s ego saying his name when out of harm’s way, only to realize he has blinded the son of Poseidon. His ego and it’s-about-me sealed a journey for himself that leads him on a ten year Odyssey to get Home.

In this part of his voyage, nothing he knew from the past works. He still retains his intelligence, intuition, insight and inner drive for home even during the years when lulled by Lotos with the drug of accedia (not caring), Circe (gluttonous & greedy for fame, wealth or power) and Calypso (I’ll give you your every desire, but you can’t return to your loved ones AND home).

Poseidon keeps him alive through all the catastrophes that befall him so that one day he can tell the story again to people who think that an oar is a winnowing fan. “No this is not a winnowing fan; it is an oar. Let me tell you a story about this oar…” Once the story is told…again, Odysseus is free to live out the rest of his life at home. So we share our stories that have brought together the transcendent and the world we experience. Kermit’s Rainbow Connection talks about this dichotomy .

So being a Chair is more than about being a Chair.

Some thoughts on returning Home. Having succeeded in the first part of our lives, Chairs set out, knowingly or unknowingly, toward Home where we find who we really are and what we’re suppose to become. (Ah, come on Oz, sometime a cigar is a cigar.) We can rest on the successes of our past and all we have achieved and the impact we have made on the world; OR head Home. Home, that inner journey that looks deeply at the meaning of one’s life and what is one suppose to be.

My simple purpose in life created many years ago when I was coaching and doing psychotherapy on the walk or run was: helping people become better athletes and world class humans. My odyssey is working on myself: “doing the only thing one can do. Saving the only life one can save.”

Home is where we both see and are seen clearly. It is a safe place. I like Michael Goldberg’s quote in his book Travels with Odysseus:
“Home is where you are recognized for who you really are, not more and not less.”

I like LinkedIn. When I link to my fellow Chairs I am in awe of all that they have already accomplished with their lives. I marvel at the impact they have had on the organizations and corporations as they became more accomplished, competent and confident. How impressive are these gifts differing that each of us bring as we start off toward Home.

The Journey of a Chair is truly an Odyssey. Ask any Chair of 10 years or more and they will share what they are continuing to learn along their path homeward. I would ask more Keepers of the Flame to share on Chairnet some of their inner journey so that newer Chairs…and those of us older Chairs that have been influenced by the preemptive striking (quick making assumers) Laestrygonians with their BAMS (review Pat Murray on Groups)…can be reminded of what Don Schmincke spoke about 12 years ago using Mintzberg’s distinctions: Are we a missionary or a professional organization.

After 12 years of reflecting on this, TEC, now Vistage is like that gestalt picture where you can see two faces looking at each other or a vase. The two faces are what the missionary aspect of Vistage is. It is about people and communication and relationship. Like the world sitting on turtles all the way down. The world of Vistage sits on relationships all the way down. Vistage is the vase. It is the business aspect. It is the crucible where Chairs come to have any slag or dross metal burned away. The slag are all those distractions that take us away from moving toward Home. Distractions self created about one’s capabilities and competence as a Chair. Distractions projected on a Mothership rather than looking inward through introspection. I am reminded: “What I say, says more about me than who or what I am saying it about.”

Several groups of Chairs going through training received a rock at the end of their training which had an owl painted on it. On the back is written either “Vistage Odyssey” or “The TEC Odyssey.” They were in either a royal blue or a purple amulet bag. I have been drawing owls on rocks since the late 60′s to commemorate moments in my life and then gave them away. The owls that I did for the Vistage and TEC Chair training were done as a way of reminding myself and the new Chairs about the journey they are setting off upon. Truly each new Chair is on an Odyssey. On one level a story about a 50 something year old company and on another level a journey of individual souls on their way Home…where they are recognized for who they really are, not more and not less.

All the above can be considered folklore. If it works, use it. If it doesn’t, don’t give it a breath of emotion or feeling. Rather go out and find someone’s folklore that works for you and use it. Or if you can’t find anyone, create your own. Please be sure to come back and tell me so I can either learn other ways of telling the folklore or see if my folklore is incorrect.

The Kalama Sutra says it very well. Buddha reminds all of us: Don’t believe anything merely because….

Instead “after thorough observation, investigation, analysis and reflection, when you find that anything agrees with reason and your experience, and is conducive to the good and benefit of one and all, and of the world at large; accept only that as true, and shape your life in accordance with it; and live up to it.”

In other words: This is what the Odyssey of Chairing is about. It is a Practice. So it is with Life. So it is with Chairing. A lifelong Practice.
Are you up for the journey?

Hic et nunc, semper cathedra non solum cathedra sed magister et studens,

Love, friendship and in the spirit of Chair collegiality,
Ozzie

The Journey
By Mary Oliver

One day you finally knew
what you had to do, and began,
though the voices around you
kept shouting
their bad advice–
though the whole house
began to tremble
and you felt the old tug
at your ankles.
“Mend my life!”
each voice cried.
But you didn’t stop.
You knew what you had to do,
though the wind pried
with its stiff fingers
at the very foundations,
though their melancholy
was terrible.
It was already late
enough, and a wild night,
and the road full of fallen
branches and stones.

But little by little,
as you left their voices behind,
the stars began to burn
through the sheets of clouds,
and there was a new voice
which you slowly
recognized as your own,
that kept you company
as you strode deeper and deeper
into the world,
determined to do
the only thing you could do–
determined to save
the only life you could save

3 Comments... What do you think? Subscribe via RSS
  1. jo said on September 14th, 2010 at 1:23 pm

    Enough with the CEO and corporate mindfulness b.s.. Really, I don’t care about people’s corporations and how they make money or are successful, etc by being mindful. I care about people. If this focus continues I’ll have to un-subscribe. Please stick to people- not companies!

  2. [...] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Shamash Alidina. Shamash Alidina said: RT @ozziegontang: Just posted to Mindfulness.com: http://www.mindfulness.com/2010/07/03/a-reflection-on-the-odyssey-of-chairing/ [...]

  3. Be Mindful: Silent is hidden in the word “Listen” said on May 31st, 2011 at 10:28 pm

    [...] is the book being used by my fellow Vistage Chairs at the Keepers of the Flame Retreat at the end of June in [...]

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