With gratitude to Peter Senge, who talks often about decentralizing the role of leadership in order to enhance the capacity of all people to work toward healthier human systems, I offer these observations, insights and experiences.
As leaders, we are acutely aware of trying to meet the needs of multiple constituencies and I often refer to six – a board of directors, employees, students, paying customers, alumni and the community at large. We have to learn how to receive, with a measure of appropriate grace and humility, invitations, requests, suggestions, recommendations, ideas, information, bad news, and demands. The challenge is to attend to the smallest of details while remaining connected to a larger vision, mission and purpose and representing the organization as the main spokesperson, cheerleader, sage and guide. And, we must not let any of the roles we perform go to our head and allow us to think that we know all the answers. In fact, it’s very good if we can ask the right questions and help people clarify their own intentions and goals and be sure that we know our own.
I remarked and wrote recently that I found no particular virtue in being busy and that I often marvel at how people seem to measure their effectiveness by how full their calendars are. What is essential for a leader, according to Senge is “to learn how to manage the precious resource of paying attention.” What he means by that is that before venturing out and engaging all those other people, places and events, the leader needs to venture inside, and listen, to pay attention and be still. It is here where we will find the resources and possibilities that will enable and empower us to reach out and connect with those others.
When we pay careful attention to our selves, to others, to the legitimate and genuine needs around us, we are in a much better condition and position to challenge and resist the status quo, to take creative and intelligent risks, and to encourage and support others. This means we must carve out the time and place for that reflection, contemplation and renewal, be it solo or with a group of like-minded folks with similar needs and priorities. When we trust our own personal core beliefs and values, our intuition and senses, and our inner teacher, we can learn how to deepen our connections to what matters most.
We are confronted and confounded by many choices every day, not only for this day or that but for the weeks and months ahead. Do we pay attention and give time and energy to every hangnail that comes in the door or across our desk? Do we allow our days, or our lives, to become fragmented by everyone else’s concerns, or can we find a way to be in touch with a larger purpose, still attend to the details, and communicate a bigger concern? Helping others frame their work and give them a larger context could be a great service, not only to them but to those others whom they serve as well.
Living close to the land in northern New Mexico, I continue to learn a lot about the uniqueness of creation. Every animal, stream, forest, and tree is unique. No two animals or trees or branches or streams are the same. As human beings, we are expressions of that same creation and just as those expressions are essential parts of the eco-system, we can show our uniqueness too. We would not ever think of a tree or a bush as being lost, or confused, so why should we be any different? We may forget from time to time or we may even get lost on occasion but if we remember who we are and what we are about, and from whence we have come, we can find our way back. We can let go of the “delusion of separateness” so that we can learn to express ourselves in a way that is more connected to our nature. We must let our own creation find us and in so doing live and work more completely, more congruently.
I watched a bald eagle fly gracefully upstream and down, low over the river yesterday; picked up an injured American Coot and let him or her float downstream to either health and recovery or to an imminent wet or dry ending; walked in the snow, anticipating skiing down the mountains; marveled in all that the universe offers up every day. At times I feel a little like Dr. Doolittle, talking to the donkeys, chickens, dogs and cats. I have a place where I live in between the mysteries that unfold each day. For each of them I am immensely grateful and glad and hold them up for recognition and celebration.
I can assure you that if we participate in these exercises, besides knowing of our vulnerability and imperfection, we will come to our rightful place in the world and be very much at home with ourselves. For many of us it has been a continual journey of inner exploration and discovery in order to be somewhat useful for outer exploration and discovery. None of us can know the end from what was begun, thus we have to trust the evolving and unfolding while perhaps nurturing it along the way. We can only contribute to the extent that we have developed the inner resources to do so. Therefore it makes such great good sense to find the place, take the time and pay attention to the development of the inner world of being.
It is here that we will know not only what we can do, but more importantly, who we are.
When we discover our authentic selves, we can express the uniqueness that is ours and ours alone, and we will then be able to fulfill the imperative from the Oracle of Delphi of Know Thyself. Equipped with such knowledge we are then prepared to know others in the context of meaningful, productive relationships. And that is what makes all the difference in what we do because of who we are.