Sunday, May 19, 2019

Leadership Lesson 4: Turn Complaints into Ideas

Associated Leadership Expectation: Show Up Positive

Complaining is a behavior pattern that works against creating a cohesive team mentality. It divides our departments into “us and them” groups and dissolves trust. When someone comes to us as leaders with a complaint, there are two basic reactions: we either get sucked in or we take it personally. Instead, we need to turn those complaints into ideas.

Getting Sucked in: The “Misery Loves Company” attempt at connection

Sometimes, those we lead make Very Good Points™, and it is very difficult not to commiserate with them. It validates us when someone else has the same concerns we do and can help us feel less alone—a common issue among members of leadership. This is a dangerous practice that can lead to issues such as an oversharing across professional boundaries, the appearance of having a “favorite,” and worst of all, the undermining of the trust-respect relationship. As members of leadership, WE are the face of the inner workings of the organization. When we express our negativity, it is amplified in those further down the hierarchy.

Making it Personal: Defending, Diffusing, and Dismissing

Other times, we may take a complaint personally, causing us to feel defensive. To minimize the impact of the complaint, we may be dismissive and blow off their concerns. We may even complain about them to others for complaining, which does nothing short of increasing the us v. them mentality. It also breaks down trust. They may think, “If they talk about someone else like this when they aren’t around, what do they say about me?” We have more power than we think when it comes to culture, and though we cannot control what happens to us or in the greater organization, we can control how we react.

Instead: Turn Complaints into Ideas

These three easy steps can help turn those complaints into ideas:

  1. Acknowledge the complaint. *This doesn’t mean to agree with them! Recognize their concern and thank them for bringing this to your attention.
  2. Seek to Understand their complaint and Ask Them for a solution. Reframe their complaint in your own words to check for understanding. Ask them, “If this was in your power to fix, how would you handle this?” Then, empower and engage them as part of the solution.
  3. Publish Their Ideas and Share Them with others for feedback. Being loyal to the absent includes giving credit to others for their ideas. When they know they will be cited for their ideas, they are more likely to share them. 

What About Venting?

There are also times when someone is just mad about a situation and needs to get it out. It may be useful to begin a conversation with a question: “Do you want me to listen, or do you want me to do something?” People need safe spaces to vent their frustrations and providing this for them may deescalate a brewing situation.

Tip #4: Turn complaints into ideas by asking for solutions.

Durmaz, L. (2013). How to turn employee complaints into ideas.

Saturday, May 4, 2019

ADF Elections and The Wild Hunt article

I had the privilege of being interviewed by Sean McShee from The Wild Hunt in regards to the results of the recent ADF election. The article is a compilation of two interviews, one with me and one with the reelected Archdruid. The questions Sean asked me were centered on my perspective of women in ADF, specifically in leadership. We have been facing the same issues since I joined ADF ten years ago, and through the efforts of some of the most beautiful women I know, we have made a tremendous amount of progress, even gaining some important allies along the way.

I am proud of the work we have done toward gender equality in ADF, AND we have more work to do. Both of those things can exist at the same time. We can be moving in the right direction, we can hold a list of examples where we are getting it right, and we can still have more work to do. Our work isn't done. The work of the women in ADF is paving the way for all the other wonderful expressions of gender, and I look forward to continuing to be a part of this important work.

For transparency, here is the transcript of the interview I did with Sean. I stand by these words, and I am happy to discuss any of these points. Dialogue is the most effective instrument of change.

WH_ADFElect20190430 questions Ashton

Can you tell the readers of the Wild Hunt who are not ADF members a little about yourself?

Sunday, April 28, 2019

The Archdruid and The Clergy Curl

The ADF Clergy Training Program is comprised of three "circles" of study. After the completion of each circle, our Priests undergo a rite of passage that involves offering a lock of hair to the fire as a symbol of our deep connection and dedication to our clergy oath: to love the land, honor the gods, and serve the folk. Typically, we choose a small lock of hair behind an ear at the back of the hair line where it won't be noticeable as it grows out.

The first time I did this was during my initial Ordination in 2012. I braided a small lock so it would be easier to manage this part of the ceremony. As it grew back in, I began referring to it as my "clergy curl," because that short section of hair--which also turned out to be bigger than I intended!--curled up like a spring. I wouldn't exactly call my hair "curly." With hair half-way down my back, the weight of my hair pulls the curl out, typically. The clergy curl was fun and charming and served as a reminder of my oath. I found it comforting when things were hard in that first year, because the connection it represented is one we must tap into and allow to flow through us. The reminder was a source of strength and renewed purpose.

In preparation for my Consecration in 2018, I was looking forward to having that purposeful curl again. Each rite of passage leaves you with a new perspective on your work, and having this tangible and visible symbol of this work once again served me well. In Colorado, my hair tends to be more curly than it was in Ohio, so it wasn't as obvious to others. It was my own private reminder that I serve something far greater than myself. 

This year, I ran for Archdruid of ADF. The Archdruid is essentially our highest officer akin to a CEO. They also serve as the liaison between the folk and the board and as the chief officer of the Clergy Council. I completed my Masters Degree in Nonprofit Management specifically to serve ADF in an administrative role, so when I was nominated, it felt like my life path was on track. I had never considered running for Archdruid, honestly, but as soon as I was nominated, my sense of purpose buzzed with anticipation of doing the work I committed my life and thousands of dollars to do.

After I lost, I was dazed at first. During the election, I had so many great conversations, including a few meaningful discussions with previous ADF members who wanted to rejoin if I won. As the election was drawing to a close, I thought I might actually win, and I began planning to start doing the work I promised the folk I would do in my platform. I don't know if there were just too many of my supporters who weren't ADF members (and therefore couldn't vote) or if I had a skewed perspective of how I was doing based on the strong statements of support I was receiving, but I was a little surprised that I lost. Then, I was a lot more surprised. Then, I spiraled. The self-doubt and feelings of rejection came crushing down, and I felt lost. What the hell am I doing? Why did I think I would win?

A week after the election results were finalized, we held our Rites of the Dawn here at Mountain Ancestors Grove. This is a service I put together for a Summerland Unity Festival in 2009 and holding annually on Easter at dawn every year since then. I told myself this would be the last one, expecting no one to show up or even care that we were doing this. 

At 6:45am MDT, I had eleven people at my house. They brought several plates of food they had baked and prepared for the breakfast potluck to follow. They offered me greetings full of love and joy as they arrived, and even helped get more benches set up outside to accommodate them. I was the ritual leader for this service, as usual, and after the first few sentences left my lips, the familiar current of connection streamed through me. When I was preparing to do the final offering, I knelt before the fire pit. Just then, a pop in the fire sent a spark right onto my neck and shoulder. Rev. William noted my hair was on fire, and tapped it out for me. I had a bit of hair on my shawl that was no longer attached to my heard, so I offered it to the fire. 

After the rite, I went to assess the damage, put burn ointment on the one spot on my neck that was red, and see what I would need to do with my hair. Surprisingly little was out of place. The spark from the fire landed on a strand of hair behind my ear at the base of my hairline, leaving behind a curl of about two inches in length: the fire gave me a new clergy curl. 

I am a Priest of Ár nDraíocht Féin: A Druid Fellowship, Inc. and Mountain Ancestors Grove. I am a member of the board for Fort Collins Pagan Pride. I hold a Masters Degree that has already helped many groups in the polytheist community to improve or legitimize their work. I am a voice for our faith, a servant of the people, and a beloved child of the Earth Mother and the Deities, who are many. Who I am and What I do are valuable. And if I doubt that, I have a curl to remind me. 

Thursday, April 18, 2019

Book Review: Ascendant: Modern Essays on Polytheism and Theology

Ascendant: Modern Essays on Polytheism and Theology
Edited by Michael Hardy
With Contributions by Edward P. Butler, Patrick Dunn, John Michael Greer, Brandon Hensley, Wayne Keysor, and Gwendolyn Reece

In my clergy training, I have recently been studying the notion of pagan theology, or Polytheology, as Michael Hardy prefers to call it. My readings have taken me from pre-axial paganism to post-axial philosophy, to monotheism, and beyond. I must say, this is one of the better resources I have happened upon in my meandering research.

This work unpacks a lot of the ideas that have been running around in my head since I first began questioning the idea that the cosmos was ruled by one all-knowing, all-seeing creator God. When I came to the understanding that deity, the divine, was not a singularity, my mind filled with questions like: how did our world and subsequently humanity come to be here? why does the world work the way it does (especially after that second college physics course!)? where do we go when we leave his world? --This book answered none of those questions. And yet, I found it to be comforting in the similarity of the authors' wondering.

A few of my favorite ponderings:

In his essay, "Approaching Theology Through the Divine Individual," author Brandon Hensley discusses the notions of hard and soft polytheism, a few generally accepted beliefs (yes, beliefs) held by polytheists, and the manner of our relationships to the divine entities. He states, "By not treating our own gods as more than just a sum of our personal experiences with them, we rid ourselves of the responsibility in treating other gods in their own context" (Hardy, 2019, p. 29). His overarching point is that it is impossible to know the gods out of context not only of their myths but also of their peers. Meeting our deities in a vacuum and diminishing them to our limited experience of them serves only to keep them small and us from growing. How can we truly understand anyone without understanding the context of them in other relationships and scenarios? I find this a valid point worth pondering in my own life.

John Michael Greer, as usual, blew my mind in his work on Neoplatonism in its original context prior to the Christian overtones, and I am seriously contemplating a deeper dive into this work.

Patrick Dunn writes that "every god's blessing can turn to a curse if we turn it that way through our hubris" (Hardy, 2019, p. 85). His notion that, in an orthopraxic religious path, we make offerings to turn ourselves toward the gods and avoid evil because it turns us away from the gods provides an excellent reference for a virtue-based practice. When we behave poorly, do we not turn away from any light that would shine upon our misdeeds? Our own actions ARE truly the center of our practice.

The highlight of the book, however, is the series of essays by Wayne Keysor, a fellow ADF-member with a masters degree in philosophy and religious studies, in which he systematically calls out the habits of we neopagans whose practices center primarily on our relationships to specific deities, our occasional inability to retain our own power in those relationships, and the ultimate quest we are already on: to continually seek the mystery in the divine. I came to some conclusions, but more importantly, I found some better questions through reading this work. I won't spoil it for you.

I highly recommend this book, whether you have dabbled in the exploration of a pagan theology or not. The introspection and contemplation of the way the world works is well worth the read!

Hardy, M. Ed. (2019). Ascendant: Modern essays on polytheism and theology. Bibliotheca Alexandrina.

Wednesday, April 10, 2019

Leadership Lesson 3: Listening to Understand

Associated Leadership Expectation: Communicate Effectively

Managers are often chosen, particularly as we move up the ladder, for attributes that include things like “strong opinions, decisive action, and take-no-prisoners attitudes” (Stibitz, 2015). All of these are great traits to have as we lead our teams, particularly through times of change, but these are some of the same traits that make us poorer listeners.

There is a lag between our hearing words and our understanding their meaning, the length of which varies from person to person. It is during this time that we lose concentration and our understanding suffers. We can get lost in our own thoughts, preparing to respond rather than paying attention. We make assumptions and try to guess what they are getting at, causing us to Make Stuff Up (TM) and problem-solve before they have even finished speaking!

Here are a few tips to help us be more attentive and effective communicators:
  1. Put down your technology and make eye contact. It is too easy to become distracted by our phones and computers. When we are given an opportunity to engage face-to-face, we must discipline ourselves to take advantage of that time.
  2. Rephrase and check for your understanding. A common practice to help us ensure we are understanding is to simply ask. When a natural pause arises, we can say something like, “What I hear you saying is…” and then provide them with a short synopsis of our understanding. This way, they can feel confident that they have been heard.
  3. Look for nonverbal cues. Especially when a topic is difficult, or the individual is separated from you by several layers of rank, it is important to try to understand what they are not saying. Does the person have their arms crossed in front of them? Are they sitting on the edge of the seat? Do they keep looking at the door? All of these can help us understand their position more fully.
  4. Know yourself. When someone relates a story, our brains search our memory archives for any relevant or similar experiences in our own lives. Depending on the topic and our emotional connection to it, we may become so engrossed in remembering the details of our story that we stop listening altogether—and even interrupt them. Often, we engage in this behavior, because we think it helps to give them an example. Instead, we only serve to set up a dynamic where we are in charge of the narrative, even though this was not supposed to be about us.
Sometimes, we fail and miss the opportunity to make a real connection with someone, but we must reengage and try again to move toward more effective and authentic communication.

Tip #3: What does it look like to listen to someone without telling your story?

Stibitz, S. (2015). How to really listen to your employees. Harvard Business Review. Retrieved from 

Sunday, April 7, 2019

Presenting at Pagan Fire Seminar: An Excerpt on Music and the Brain

I had the privilege of presenting two sessions at this year's Pagan Fire Seminar with Three Cranes Grove, ADF, in Columbus, Ohio. What a beautiful event! Good food, good topics, engaged attendees, what more could a presenter want? To give you an idea of the content from these presentations, I present you with the following excerpt:

The Brain’s Interpretation of Sound:
Physical, Chemical, and Psychological Elements of Listening and Participating in Music

The brain has fascinated scientists and researchers for hundreds of years of documented time relevant to our discussion. In 2019, we have a tremendous volume of research to help us understand why our brains and bodies respond the way they do to the world around us. I am oversimplifying and including only the relevant sections of this complicated body of research to help us understand those pieces that are most useful for our purposes.

Our work today will focus on the pathways for processing sound as it moves through the brain. I will include additional diagrams for your reference as we progress through this work, and you  may flip between them to promote understanding at your leisure.

How the Brain Hears a Sound

In order to hear a sound, sound waves must enter our ear and be translated from WAVE energy into an ELECTRONIC impulse in order for our brain to be able to interpret the sound.

The breakdown of sound processing in the ear:

  • Sound waves in the air enter the ear canal.
  • When they hit the ear drum, it vibrates according to the waves hitting it.
  • The tiny bones in the inner ear move in time with the ear drum like little levers.
  • The inner ear bones transfer the wave energy to the fluid inside the cochlea, which causes the hairs inside to move. 
  • The motion of these hairs is picked up by the auditory nerve, which translates the information electronically to the brain.

Friday, March 8, 2019

Leadership Lesson 2: The Bad Habit of Making Stuff Up

Associated Leadership Expectation: Act with Honesty and Integrity

We begin charting our mental maps at a very young age. Our experiences lay down the roads and byways that provide future avenues from an event to an explanation based on the past. This is a normal part of the developing mind. Our mental maps provide direction when we have new experiences by reminding us of similar situations from our past. They lead us to make assumptions to help us react and problem-solve in the here-and-now. When pieces of information are missing, our mental maps Make Stuff Up to fill in the blanks.

The problem is not that we Make Stuff Up. Inferences are part of our learning and help us to make logical sense of our world. The problem is that we treat our assumptions as fact without checking to see if they are accurate. Sometimes, we need to piece together information and attempt a narrative explanation without the benefit of the source. One of the best ways to preserve integrity in our communication is to preface the parts where we are Make Stuff Up with a phrase such as, “I make up that____.” Then, we can follow up on our conjectures for verification from the appropriate sources.

Acting with honesty and integrity is especially noticeable in our communication. Factual communication is key to helping us be loyal to the absent. Too often, when we Make Stuff Up, we are making assumptions about someone else’s intentions, about why they performed an action or made a decision. Providing candid feedback and opinions is an integral part of this leadership expectation—and that includes admitting when we don’t know.

Above all else, acting with honesty and integrity is the primary way we can build trust with our direct reports, peers, congregants, and coworkers/co-volunteers. As Steven Covey (1989) puts it, “Trust is the glue of life. It’s the most essential ingredient in effective communication. It’s the foundational principle that holds all relationships.” When we choose to Make Stuff Up and state it as fact, we risk destroying the trust we have worked so hard to build.

Tip #2: When you’re not sure of the facts, whether yours or someone else’s, don’t be afraid to question them. “Is that factual, or is that an assumption?”

Covey, S. (1989). The 7 habits of highly effective people: Powerful lessons in personal change. New York, NY: Simon & Schuster.