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Balancing Magnetism and Connection

I’ve been thinking lately about John Maxwell’s Law of Magnetism from The 21 Irrefutable Laws of Leadership in relationship to working for inclusion. This law states that “who you are is who you attract.”

When it comes to creating inclusive groups and workplaces, sometimes we have to look past the obvious features of a person, features that might highlight differences, and find the features we have in common, things like values, goals, and mission.

When building a team, John Maxwell recommends finding people who are “like-valued” but with different strengths. That means being more intentional than simply looking at the people you are naturally drawn to.

I first started practicing this about 6 years ago. As an educator, I am frequently evaluated by students and administrators. For many years, my student evaluations consistently showed about 10% of my students LOVED me, 10% HATED me, and the other 80% liked me.

For years, I assumed it was an expression of the students’ personal preferences, but then I learned John Maxwell’s Law of Connection and realized it was my responsibility to connect with students who weren’t naturally drawn to my teaching style.

When I started intentionally reaching out to students who held back and seemed aloof, the change was remarkable. It created a new way of relating to my students (and my evaluation numbers improved, too!).

What amazed me was how little effort it took. All I did was greet the aloof students by name when they came into the classroom. That little action let them know I saw them and I knew them, that they were as important to me as any of the other students.

If you’re ready for a little help improving the relationships around you, let’s talk! You’ll be surprised how impactful little things can be!

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The Power of Language

Recently I decided to re-read one of my favorite novels of all time – The Lord of the Rings by J.R.R. Tolkien.  There are so many things I love about this novel, but the thing I love best is how well Tolkien created different cultures with their own histories and languages.  (This shouldn’t surprise you if you know me at all!) 

This time through, however, I’ve become more aware of the cultural conflict within the story.  Tolkien paints a beautiful picture of how conflict and mistrust can be turned around for mutual benefit.

A History of Mistrust

From the beginning, the characters of Legolas the Elf and Gimli the Dwarf are set up to be antagonistic.  Almost at their first meeting, Gimli’s father makes mention of mistreatment he received at the hands of Legolas’s father – a reference to the adventures described in Tolkien’s book The Hobbit (p. 255).  There are historical grievances between the two races, and these two characters have inherited those grievances.

Shortly thereafter, these two are assigned to be companions of Frodo, the character whose quest is the main focus of the novel.  Their paths take them through a territory that long ago was the site of friendship between Elves and Dwarves, though it was a time that came to an abrupt and tragic end.  This is the first time we hear Gimli and Legolas both defend the perspective of their own people (p. 303). 

They eventually make their way to the Elf kingdom of Lothlorien, where Dwarves are not welcome due to this history.  Gimli is allowed to pass but is watched closely.  

When the adventures of the group are recounted to the Elf king, he blames Gimli for a devastating loss the group had just experienced – that was no doing of Gimli’s but occurred in the ancient Dwarf territory.  

It only takes a word

Here we come to a pivotal point in the story.  

The Elf queen Galadriel speaks words of comfort using the Dwarvish language.  It is such a small thing, yet it has such an impact on his heart.  

“And the Dwarf, hearing the names given in his own ancient tongue, looked up and met her eyes; and it seemed to him that he looked suddenly into the heart of an enemy and saw there love and understanding” (p. 356).

It’s easy to overlook the importance of this moment in the life of the Dwarf and his relationship with Legolas.  

“Kind words can be short and easy to speak, but their echoes are truly endless.” 
― Mother Teresa

From that day forward, he and Legolas become fast friends and keep each other company when their paths lead through strange lands and beyond.  

  • On the edge of Fangorn Forest (p. 491):
    • Legolas: “I could have been happy here, if I had come in days of peace.”
    • Gimli: “I dare say you could. You are a Wood-elf, anyway, though Elves of any kind are strange folk.  Yet you comfort me. Where you go, I will go.”
  • At Helm’s Deep (p. 532):
    • Gimli: “There is good rock here. This country has tough bones.  … Give me a year and a hundred of my kin and I would make this a place that armies would break upon like water.”
    • Legolas: “I do not doubt it, but you are a dwarf, and dwarves are strange folk.  I do not like this place, … but you comfort me, Gimli, and I am glad to have you standing nigh with your stout legs and your hard axe.”
  • At the end of their time in Middle Earth: 
    • “But when King Elessar gave up his life Legolas followed at last the desire of his heart and sailed over Sea. We have heard tell that Legolas took Gimli Gloin’s son with him because of their great friendship, greater than any that has been between Elf and Dwarf” (p. 1081).

“You can do what I cannot do. I can do what you cannot do. Together we can do great things.”

― Mother Teresa

Still True Today

In today’s environment, all too often we speak harshly to those we don’t agree with.  Even our leaders frequently use “us vs. them” language that alienates instead of heals.  

However, it only takes a little kindness and empathy, looking at the world from someone else’s perspective and speaking their language, to begin to turn things around.  

What words of kindness can you speak today?

References

Mother Teresa, https://www.goodreads.com/author/quotes/838305.Mother_Teresa

Tolkien, J.R.R. (1955, 2004) The Lord of the Rings: 50th Anniversary one-volume edition, Houghton-Mifflin Company

Cultural Intelligence, Lessons from the Field, Our Blog

Culture and Containment

This past weekend, I got an emergency notice on my phone from the Korean government officially encouraging “social distancing” for the next two weeks.  This seemed odd to me because, at least in the area where I’ve been living, we’ve been practicing social distancing for about a month already.

As I’ve watched the US start to grapple with the COVID-19 outbreak, I’ve been struck by the strong contrast between how the people of the two countries have reacted.

  • Korea has experienced a shortage of surgical masks, but nothing else has been hard to get, least of all toilet paper.
  • It is social etiquette to wear a face mask in public, not just to protect yourself but to protect those around you.  
  • Schools have been closed since February, with all instruction delivered online, to protect children and teachers.

We are currently scheduled to return to classrooms after the 2-week social distancing mandate is concluded. 

In contrast, the US response has been panicked and chaotic. 

I think there are several reasons for this contrast.  It is only partially cultural.

Cultural: Korea has a collectivist culture, which means people tend to think of what is best for the group before their own comfort.  However, the individualist tendencies of the US encourage people to act in their own interests first.  This one point explains the prevalence of wearing face masks.  My understanding is that when I wear a mask in public, I let others know I consider their health to be important.  

Socio-political: When it comes to following guidelines set forth by the government, Koreans seem to be more willing than Americans.  In the past ten years, I’ve seen many Americans become more and more distrustful of anything the government says or does.  Additionally, Korea has seen coronavirus outbreaks before by facing both SARS and MERS. However, this is the first outbreak the US has had to endure.  It seems Korea has learned from past experience and has taken relatively swift action.  

The American reaction hasn’t been all negative.  I have loved watching celebrities and entertainers sharing their talents through social media in order to alleviate our isolation.  I have been encouraged by the number of educational and entertainment institutions that made their content available for us to continue learning, growing, and living.  It has begun to create the sense of community that I so admire in the Korean culture.

The point I remind myself and my colleagues here is that this is temporary.  “It came to pass”; it didn’t come to stay.  The social distancing is only for a season that, in retrospect, will seem so short – a month or two compared to a lifetime is really nothing.  The “introvert motto” really does apply here: Let us unite together … separately!  

Leadership, Lessons from the Field, Our Blog

A Tale of Two Leaders

In my work at George Mason University Korea, I’m in the unusual (or maybe not so unusual) position of having two sets of administrative leadership – the deans at Mason Korea and the directors at INTO Mason, my home department on the main Fairfax campus in Virginia.  

As the situation here in Korea has been developing, with the rapid spread of COVID-19 throughout the country and the decision to move all instruction to an online format for the first half of the semester, these two sets of leaders have had very different ways of expressing their concern and care for us, their faculty. 

  • One group has been focused on the practical – getting tools and resources to us to facilitate our move to online teaching.  For many of the faculty, this has been their first experience with online instruction, and it can be overwhelming.  
  • One group has been focused more on the personal care side – asking us how we’re holding up and offering emotional as well as practical support.

It would be easy to look at these two groups and think this is a gender-related response; the practical group is all male, the personal group all female.  However, that would be overly simplistic, especially in light of my own reaction – I am a highly task-oriented female!  

When a few of the faculty got on a Skype call with our directors in Fairfax, they asked us how we were doing, and my first response was related to how I was adapting to online instruction. The other two faculty on the call responded with their emotional concerns.  Even with my students, I have to be very, very intentional about asking how they are doing before diving into the course work for the day.  

If it’s not gender-related, then I would suggest it is personality-related.  The DiSC model of human behavior identifies two personality types that are primarily task-oriented and two that are primarily people-oriented. I have learned the hard way to be more people-oriented than I am naturally inclined to be.  

Which expression of care and concern is better?  I would argue that we need both – the practical and the personal.   We need both – from all our leaders. 

Interpersonal Communication, Lessons from the Field, Our Blog

Peer Leadership in Trying Times

The global coronavirus (COVID-19) outbreak has inspired a wide range of reactions.

  • Some seem quite unconcerned, not wearing a face mask in public but at least practicing good hygiene
  • Some take moderate precautions – wearing a mask in public, washing hands more frequently, carrying a small bottle of hand sanitizer, avoiding physical contact such as shaking hands with others
  • Some take massive action – enhancing the filtering capability of their mask, completely avoiding public spaces, carrying large bottles of hand sanitizer

I actually fall in the middle group, though I wear a mask in public primarily as a courtesy for those in the last group. However, as a side note, my area of Korea has had the lowest rate of infection in the country, partially due to the prevalence of this “massive action” group here.

These responses have brought sudden and big changes to how we operate on a day to day basis. Navigating the evolving and complex environment can be challenging, even more so if you consider yourself as an influential person. I know that my attitude and my reactions have an affect on the people around me, in particular the other faculty, who find themselves in the same position I’m in.

I am careful – most of the time! – to keep a positive and helpful attitude. This is the greatest way I can help my students and colleagues through this trying time. However, being a morning person, my current challenge is to maintain that positive attitude through the afternoon, which is when most of my interpersonal contact happens.

I have come to recognize a greater need for self care throughout the day in order to maintain my positivity. What do you do to keep yourself charged up throughout the day?

Interpersonal Communication, Lessons from the Field, Our Blog

Love in the Time of Coronavirus

I love Korea – the country, the culture, the people, the food, all of it. I didn’t realize how much until I returned to Korea three weeks ago after being gone for 10 years. In many ways, Korea will always be “home” to me.

I love teaching – interacting with hungry minds, creating a learning community, helping individuals reach for their potential. This has been and will continue to be my life’s work, my passion.

COVID-19 has disrupted my relationship with both of these loves!

As of this writing, there are over 3,500 coronavirus cases reported in South Korea. When I arrived three weeks ago, there were fewer than 30.

This dramatic increase has inspired a strong reaction from the Koreans I love so much.

  • My university has required that all class be taught online for the first two weeks (but I expect that to be extended). Many universities have postponed the start of classes by op to 3 weeks.
  • The majority people are wearing surgical face masks whenever they are in public. This includes the Korean staff and many of the international faculty in my office. In fact, in order to enter my housing facility, I must wear a mask.
  • The population has been encouraged by the government to avoid gathering together, including Sunday services.
Children playing soccer while wearing protective face masks.

All of these restrictions have made building and maintaining relationships more challenging – especially with my new students. I have done what I can to help them get to know me by creating and sending out videos, but I feel I’m having a harder time getting to know them.

In the past, I’ve taught lessons online, but it’s always been later in the semester, after I’ve had the chance to get to know the students and build some rapport. I’m finding this situation a true challenge to my teaching style.

I’m already making a list of things “not to do,” and I’m still looking for the best practices that will be most effective in these circumstances.

Interpersonal Communication, Lessons from the Field, Our Blog

How Can We Break Down “Silos”?

This past week, I met my new colleagues for the first time.

Korean culture is community-oriented, which is one of the things I love about it. What I forgot about was how community-oriented the expat community can be, too.

I’ve taught at George Mason University for five years now, and in that time, I’ve gotten to know very few faculty outside my own department. Sadly, this is the norm, not just in higher education but also business settings and government. We tend to keep ourselves “siloed” away from people in other departments or business units.

In the past week, I’ve spent time with faculty from five different departments and from four different countries – people whose paths I might never have crossed in Fairfax, VA – on the main campus where we all teach! We are shopping together, getting lunch and coffee together, and taking walks together.

These are interesting people who I really like, with whom I have a number of things in common. Why couldn’t we meet in Virginia? Why did we have to come all the way to the other side of the world to get to know each other?

I remember when I first moved to the Washington, DC, area, fresh from living in S. Korea for eight years. I was hungry to find this kind of community, but everyone I met had their own established networks, their own agenda of how they wanted to spend their time. I was fairly lonely those first two or three years until I got connected with a community that was open to me.

Now I’m thinking about how to bring this collegial “un-siloed” sense of community back with me when I return home. I don’t have the answer yet; I’m open to suggestions!

Interpersonal Communication, Lessons from the Field, Our Blog

How Determined Are You?

As I’ve been settling into my new life here in Korea, I’ve been struck by how little I need to use precise language to communicate.

Albert Einstein is reputed to have said, “If you can’t explain it simply, you don’t understand it well enough.” This past week, my ability to explain things simply has been tested!

While my everyday Korean skills are coming back quickly, I’ve had to visit a couple of financial institutions to reinstate accounts from when I was here ten years ago. This has required a more complex level of Korean language, a higher level than I am currently able to use.

In each interaction, we found ways to communicate, whether it was using simplified language to explain complex situations, using a combination of Korean and English vocabulary, or even writing down what needed to be communicated. (I’ve only had to resort to using my Google Translate app once!)

In the end, I found that our determination to communicate with each other made that communication possible.

 George Bernard Shaw said, “The single biggest problem in communication is the illusion that it has taken place.”

How determined are you to truly communicate with the people around you? It seems that we take it for granted that communication is happening when we all speak the same language, but I find that’s when most misunderstandings arise.

I challenge you this week to put more effort into truly understanding those you communicate with regularly and see what it does to improve your relationships!

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The First Step to a Great 2020

By the time I graduated from high school, I had a clear vision for my career; I knew I wanted to live and work in another country. I pursued an education in teaching English as a second language so that I could be paid to live in other countries.

At the age of 29, when I moved to South Korea, I achieved my goal!

But what was next?

In my early 30s, I wandered from one job to another, simply following the opportunities that presented themselves. In my mid-30s, I finally developed a new vision for my career that has propelled me ever since.

C. S. Lewis said, “You are never too old to set a new goal or to dream a new dream.”

What are you dreaming for your life today? If you are wandering, like I was, I invite you to join me for a new study to finish out 2019 and start 2020 – a new decade! – with a purpose and direction that can propel you forward for the next 10 years and beyond!

Details and register at https://troycommunications.net/product/preparing-for-a-great-2020/

Cultural Intelligence, Leadership, Our Blog

A Sure Path to Influence

By Tasha M. Troy

One of the key dimensions of culture is the “relationship-oriented / task-oriented” continuum.  As a product of American culture, and as an element of my personality, I began my career highly task-oriented.  I was focused on first, gaining the credentials and education necessary to reach my goals and second, getting as much information into my students as I could.

When I moved to South Korea, I had to learn a new method of operation.  In order to teach well, I had to build relationships with my students first.  It was in that season that I developed a greater appreciation for the people around me – their strengths, opinions, and values.

Today, I’d like to share a mini-lesson from my weekly Professional Development Essentials class on Developing a Greater Appreciation for Others.

In this mini-lesson, I made a reference to an earlier blog article I wrote last year.  Here is a link to that article.

Does Leadership Have to Be Lonely?