Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Leading, By Examples #1 - The Eye of the Storm

Believe it or not, I am not a full-time writer for this blog. I know that it may be tough to believe that it doesn't take me a month of 40-hour work weeks to turn out each entry, but them's the facts, kids. Shoot, I don't even get paid to do this. I have an actual job, working at a college, and recently my professional world and my internet-talking-to-anyone-who-will-listen world have collided. As part of one of my involvements here on the campus, I've been asked to contribute to a blog about leadership for our students. Because I am a lazy, lazy man, but also because hey, maybe you'd like to read what I wrote over there, I have decided to share my blog posts from there here (and not vice versa). So, below, please enjoy the first leadership blog entry from yours truly, Remus Thirty. More to come! And don't worry, this won't be ALL I post from now on, it will just be something I also post.

"For months now, I’ve tried to think of what I can contribute to the leadership blog. What do I have to say that’s relevant, interesting, and entertaining on the topic of leadership? They say you should write what you know, and I’m something of a pop culture junkie, especially geek culture. We are what we are. As such, I’ve decided to write a series of entries that look at notable leaders from pop culture and examine just why they make good leaders. There’s no one “best” way to lead, but it is my hope that through looking at these characters, we can gain insight into some of the qualities that contribute to good, or even great leadership.

So, to whom should the first entry be dedicated? After much though, I decided to award yet another “first” to a character with several. Ladies and gentlemen, today we’re going to look at the character of Storm from the X-Men. Not the boring, misplayed Storm from the X-Men films (sorry Halle, you’re a great actress, but this was not a gem of a role for you), but the Storm from the comic books and 90’s cartoon. Storm, for those not familiar, was introduced in the 70’s, a mutant superhero with the ability to control the weather. Raised in Africa and worshipped as a goddess, Storm arrived on the scene at a time when Black comic heroes were extremely rare, and female characters were largely relegated to supporting roles. She changed the face of comics by becoming not just a major character, but the leader of her team. But why was she fit to lead? What qualities did Storm possess that gave her the iconic place in the history of superheroes that she holds?

Leaders possess strength. In this case, I’m not talking about Storm’s weather powers, which are largely irrelevant to the remainder of this blog entry. I’m talking about inner strength, strength of will. Within the Marvel Universe, Storm is known, even amongst other superheroes, for her iron, indomitable will. Even such heavy-hitters as Dr. Doom and Count Dracula himself have been impressed by her unassailable confidence, even in the face of mortal danger and total uncertainty. Now, leaders are, of course, human. We all get pushed to the breaking point sometimes, but leaders know that they are setting an example for those who follow them. We cannot buckle, because there are people counting on us.

We get stronger from experience, of course. Leaders have to embrace their pasts and their experience, even if unpleasant. Storm spent time as an orphan in Cairo picking pockets for a crime boss (secretly a supervillain… hey, it’s comics, folks). At times when super powers were no help, she has been able to draw on her experience as a thief and use the wisdom and skills gleaned from that questionable time to achieve her goals. So it is with more mundane leaders. Sometimes we have to look back into our pasts and draw from the most unlikely or painful places in order to proceed forward. Great leaders are open to this process, drawing strength from their challenges, instead of being trapped by them.

Leaders frequently must face their fears. Being in charge is scary. And when fearful and stressful times arise, people look to leaders for guidance. Storm suffers from claustrophobia, traumatized by a building collapse in her childhood. Yet, when she needed to enter the sewers of New York City to save her teammate, she faced her fears and entered, going so far as to do battle for leadership of the Morlocks, a group of mutants living in the tunnels beneath the city. Not because she wanted to, solely because she had to. And, as a great leader, she faced her worst fear to do so.

Finally, leaders lead by values. If leadership meant solely doing whatever it takes to achieve goals, some of the worst monsters of history and fiction would be “great” leaders. But truly great leaders live by a code. They know when there are more important factors than just completing the mission. Storm, as an example, has sworn to herself to not take lives. The power of the entire atmosphere at her disposal, and she won’t kill (OK, one exception when she THOUGHT she did, but that character turned out to have a 2nd heart… again, hey, it’s comics). It’s not so much WHAT the code a leader lives by says (within reason), but that there is a code there.

So think for yourself, what are sources of strength for you? What experiences in your past have contributed to your ability and versatility as a leader? What fears are you willing to face for your team or your cause? And what do you stand for? I believe these are questions whose mere contemplation is valuable for a leader, and your answers don’t have to be the same as Storm’s. But she’s there as an example, a beacon in the sky, to remind us of what we can do, super powers or no, in the service of those who depend on us and the causes we care about."

Tuesday, February 01, 2011

Snow Time Like the Present

As I look outside, there is more white stuff coating everything than even in the ending of Ghostbusters (you are welcome for that clean yet witty punchline). I know I am getting older because snow is finally starting to feel more like a curse to me than a blessing. I think how much a person likes snow is directly proportional to the amount of driving they're required to do in it. Oh to be 8 again and have snow mean no school, making forts, and drinking hot chocolate. I'd like to take a few moments to reflect on some snow-related things that come to mind, be they good, bad, or other. Without further ado, here's some snowstream-of-consciousness.

Ice Cream - Ice cream is basically snow evolved. Temperature? Same. Texture? Similar. Flavor? + 1,000,000. Some people think it's not fun to eat ice cream in the winter. If you barbecue over an open flame in the summer, why not eat freezing cold ice cream in the winter?

Ice Planet Hoth - The Empire Strikes Back is the best Star Wars movie. I know Star Wars and Return of the Jedi have their fans, and some blind idiot somewhere must be standing up for the prequel trilogy, but really, Empire is unassailable. Part of the charm of this movie is the opening sequence set on a frozen planet where the rebels have holed up. The battle with the Imperial Walkers, the Luke vs. Abominable Snowman sequence, the infamous Tauntaun makeshift sleeping bag (I make references to that ALL THE TIME)... it's just so memorable! And I'm not even particularly a Star Wars geek. A movie geek, yes, which is why I can geek out about Star Wars to some extent, but this isn't fanboy talk. Just sayin'.

Video Game Snow Levels - This is really a mixed bag of a category. Snow/Ice levels in video games tend to either be some of my absolute favorites or absolute hell. I find a direct correlation between how much "slidey" physics a game throws in and how much I want to throw a controller at the screen. My favorite snow level is the Ice Country area of Secret of Mana, which I've referenced before, in no small part thanks to the music which I find so soothing as to be near-therapeutic, as well as the crystal trees that gently change colors. I also like the Ice Cavern in Ocarina of Time despite the "slidey" floors. And I remember really liking the Snowfield area of Final Fantasy Adventure for Game Boy.

Skiing - I have not had the appropriate combination of time, money, and motivation to go skiing for several years now, but I used to love it. In theory, I still do. It's a sport where I don't have to feel like I'm constantly overheating, and it's a chance to move fast, really fast, when I'm more used to moving kinda slow. I used to go to a mountain in Canada every year during February break with my dad's mom's side of the family (The McDormand clan, which was my grandmother's maiden name before she became Lavinia Thirty, and later Lavinia Kodiak). I've got some very good memories of bombing down the slopes with my cousins, and hope to be able to get back into skiing again at some point.

That one shot from the first Lord of the Rings film - I love the Lord of the Rings films and books, and even the occasional video game. Within the film trilogy, there are numerous shots that are absolutely visually stunning, for any number of reasons. Sometimes it's because of the intricacy of the set work, or the expressions of the characters, or the excitement of the action. But my favorite shot in the entire trilogy is a very simple one. It's the shot, as the Fellowship approaches Caradhras the snowy mountain, of the ring on its chain, lying on the snow, having just been dropped by Frodo, who fell over. This is it, or close enough to it.

Woolly Mammoths - Or Mastodons. Either or. In any event, it has been a constant disappointment to me that they aren't around. I can distinctly remember times where I'd think about mammoths, then have the conscious thought, "and there aren't any of them." And then feel sad. BUT!!! Scientists are working on cloning them and having modern elephants carry them to term! In possibly as little as FOUR YEARS we may be a world that once again hosts my favorite ice age animal!!! SO. FREAKING. PUMPED.

Snow Days - They were awesome as a kid. Stay home, play in the snow, hang out... it was great. But as an adult... yep, still awesome.

Christmas - I know. I know I'm agnostic. I know I don't like most Christmas music. I know I don't like most Christmas movies, or Christmas television episodes. But I love Christmas. I really do. Just because I don't like much of what comes along with it doesn't mean I don't dig the holiday itself. And blame Irving Berlin (who I hope just liked snow and wasn't in fact a massive racist), but I associate the holiday with snow, which is one of the things that comes along with Christmas that I am A-OK with.

The Yeti - Probably not real. But would be cool.

One Particular Part of Driving in the Snow - In general, I hate driving in the snow. Even moreso sleet and other precipitation of the "Wintry Mix" variety. But I've always like the look of driving at night, when the snow is falling but not too heavily, of zooming into the snowflakes. It gives the feeling of flying into a starry night sky, and that's pretty damn cool.

The Sound - I really like the sound snow of moderate consistency makes when walked upon. The crunchy sound. Especially if it's otherwise quiet around.

Hostess Snowballs - I don't really like them that much, but they're OK I guess. I always liked Twinkies and Cupcakes better.

(Ant)Arctic Animal Species - Polar Bears, Snow Leopards, Walruses, Seals, Arctic Foxes, Penguins... some of the coolest animals are cold weather animals. As above, soon to be added to this list: WOOLLY FREAKING MAMMOTHS.

OK, that's enough for now. Stay warm, folks!