Father Gabriel’s Bedrock

Readers of Blending Leadership know that Reshan and I are big fans of David Sparks.  In all that he does, he combines good humor, humility, and intelligence, so what’s not to like?

Recently, on Mac Power Users, a podcast he co-hosts with Katie Floyd, Sparks interviewed “Catholic priest and geek” Gabriel Mosher. At one point in the interview, after Katie asked Father Gabriel about the online tools or scheduling services he uses to organize his parish, Father Gabriel offered a response that is a textbook example of thoughtful blended leadership — that is, leadership that balances the needs of those served (i.e., led) with the range of tools available to serve (i.e., lead) them.

A lot of the people who I work with or who I spend time with or who need my help really, they don’t function that way. Most people that I’m working with, they either want to deal with a phone call or email. Having a remote or sort of . . . Internet based or a service based scheduling system would lose for them, I think, that personal touch. A lot of them are really asking, of their priest, they’re asking for that personal touch. . . .  An email is already a little bit distant from that.  You have to balance, I think, as a priest, [when you’re] someone who is ministering, when you’re serving people, you have to balance. Yeah, there’s a whole bunch of great services out there, but for these people, there needs to be that element of the personal involved.

David Sparks then jumps in to emphasize the utility of Fr. Gabriel’s point, applying it to his legal practice:

That’s the reason why I frankly haven’t used them in my legal practice. I don’t want to put my clients through saying “oh you have to go log into some website and look at a calendar.”

And then Fr. Gabriel finishes the point:

I think there’s [an] analogy. . . .   If you hire a lawyer, this is someone that you need to have a relationship with, and you need to be willing to, you want to, trust them.  So you want to get to know them. All of those points of contact that you have, those actual points of contact on the phone or through email or in person, each of those are very important for establishing the relationship that’s the bedrock of the work that’s done.

There are dozens of wonderful tech tools that leaders can use to inspire and guide their constituents . . . But it pays off to really think about the people you lead as you’re choosing the best ways to connect with them and to serve them.  The bedrock is what counts.

Automation for Leaders


My friend and colleague, Dr. Reshan Richards, is great on the topic of automation.  He reminds us that, as we gain time due to automation or efficiency, we should protect that time and use it for truly human interactions, whether that includes spending more time with our families, pursuing some kind of personal expression through an artistic side project, or doing the kinds of work that only we can do.

Here’s a quick video I made to demonstrate one way that I automated the use of feedback this year in an effort to do a better job with a task that I perform every year at the same time.  In this case, automation ensured that I made the best use of some great insights from a colleague.

Moving to Bcc:

I have noticed over the past year that the savviest digital communicators I know use a simple phrase in group emails: “I’m moving ______ to Bcc:.”  I had a hunch about what this meant, but I finally decided to ask them, specifically, why they do it.

After a few conversations, I quickly learned that this move is pure digital etiquette.  If A emails B and C to introduce them to each other, B or C can move A to the Bcc line as a way to say, “thanks for the invitation, we’re off and running now, and we don’t want to continue to flood your inbox with our correspondence.”  Because A was moved to the Bcc line, he/she/they will automatically be removed from all future emails between B and C.

As such, once you move someone to the Bcc line, you formally acknowledge his/her/their contribution to the present conversation and officially do him/her/them the favor of not having to keep up with the future conversation.  It’s another small way to be thoughtful in the (online) world.

Biographical Interview

Laurie Gordon, a reporter for the The Sparta Independent newspaper (New Jersey), interviewed me recently.  We covered some topics that I don’t usually explore in interviews and podcast appearances.

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Here are her questions and my answers:

I know you grew up in Jefferson. How did you come to go to Pope John High School?

I attended the Jefferson Public School system from kindergarten through eight grade, and I loved it. I had some great teachers and close friends, and by the time eighth grade rolled around, I definitely had a clear path forward in the high school. I was going to play saxophone in the band, run cross country, play basketball, and pitch for the baseball team. But that narrative started to change in my head when my parents casually presented Pope John as an option.    

Looking back, the decision to go to Pope John instead of Jefferson seems almost unfathomable.  All my friends, my entire life, was in Jefferson. I lived in Jefferson, grew up fishing in the White Rock Lake and rooting for the high school football team.  I don’t know how I had the courage to leave all of that.  

What I can say is that the decision to go to Pope John immediately intensified my life because it put me at the nexus of some very serious local rivalries — Pope John had Sparta on one side and Jefferson on the other, and there was fierce competition with both schools.  I think that, on some level, I was drawn to that kind of intensity. It certainly made for good drama!  

There was also part of me that had a little bit of a romantic streak. I still do. I knew that if I went to Pope John I was going to be embarking on a true adventure because I didn’t know anybody there.  I was going to have to figure things out for myself. I was going to have to prove myself all over again, and in doing so, define who I truly wanted to be. 

I was on track to be successful at Jefferson.  I knew all the key players, and certain doors were being held open for me.  But I walked away from all of that into a great unknown — and from that point on, I  got to make my own decisions about who I was.  I got to write my own future.  

Please trace your collegiate and post-collegiate studies and talk about how you ended up in the field of education.

I went to Boston College, and by the time I stepped foot onto campus I knew that I wanted to be a writer and to study English.  I had reached out to the poetry professor there, Suzanne Matson, and sent her some of my work.  I told her that I wanted to be in her advanced studies class, and she was receptive and encouraging.  I ended up taking her class twice.  

I took as many English classes as I could get my hands on, and I ended up following my interest all the way to Oxford University in England, where I spent my entire junior year.  I would say that’s where wayward desire turned into legitimate productivity because I was plugged into the Oxford tutorial system — and that meant I had to write, a lot, each week. I didn’t  have to attend classes.  Instead, I had to write a ten-page paper each week and read it out loud to an Oxford Don during a one-on-one meeting.  He or she would take notes and then tear into my arguments, my logic, my sources — point by point, almost sentence by sentence.  I had to defend my research.  I had to defend my word choice and my syntax.  This process probably sounds painful to some of your readers, but I loved it.  It forced me to learn to think and express my thinking — and it made me immune to believing my writing was somehow precious or priceless.  

When I got back to Boston College, I immediately elected to write a senior thesis.  I wrote about William Blake, and once Blake had his hooks in me, I couldn’t put him down.  I went directly to graduate school at University of Virginia with the intention of writing and learning more about Blake.   

Toward the end of graduate school, I decided to enter the one profession where I could continue to think and talk about books.  I became an English teacher with a full-blown writing habit, or on the flip side, a writer with a full-blown teaching habit.  I have never liked to separate teaching and writing.  One feeds the other.     

What were your jobs prior to Montclair Kimberly Academy?

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Good Scientist x Bad Roomate

I just started reading a mindbendingly good book by Robert Moor.  Called On Trails, it shares an anecdote about Richard Feynman and an ant infestation in his home.  As I read it, I was intrigued by the way Feynman could seemingly override the default reaction that most of us would have had, given the same circumstance.  Instead of reaching for a can of ant repellant, Feynman reached for sugar and colored pencils.

A clever and patient observer can watch a trail sleeken in real time.  The physicist Richard Feynman, for instance, witnessed this phenomenon while studying the ants that infested his home in Pasadena.  One afternoon, he took note of a line of ants walking around the rim of his bathtub.  Though myrmecology was far from his area of expertise, he was curious to find out why ant trails inevitably “look so straight and nice.”  First, he placed a lump of sugar on the far side of the bathtub and waited for hours until an ant found it.  Then, as the an carted a piece of the sugar back to its nest, Feynman picked up a colored pencil and traced the ant’s return path along the bathtub.  The restulting trail was “quite wiggly,” full of errors.

Another ant emerged, followed the first ant’s trail, and located the sugar.  As it plodded back to the nest, Feynman marked its trail with a different color pencil.  But in its haste to return with its bounty, the second ant repeatedly lost the first ant’s trail, cutting off many of the unnecessary curves: The second line was noticeably straighter than the first.  The third line, Feynman noted, was even straighter than the second.  He ultimately followed as many as ten ants with his pencils, and, as he’d expected, the last few trails he traced formed a neat line along the bathtub’s edge.  “It’s something like sketching,” he observed.  “You draw a lousy line at first; then you go over it a few times and it makes a nice line after a while.” (21)

Moor uses this passage to end a subchapter in dramatic fashion, hearkening back to an insight from Darwin.  “And, as Darwin showed, in the great universal act of streamlining, even the errors are essential.”

Think about Feynman.  Think about Darwin.  Then think about that mastery of this guy Robert Moor, who used an anecdote about a guy breaking from everyday tradition in order to make a point about the evolutionary necessity of such behavior.  I can’t wait to see where this book goes next.  Nowhere I’d predict, I’m guessing.