Spirit Warriors – Leaders for Complex Times

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Sections of this topic

    I just returned from a conference at which Meg Wheatley spoke about her new book: So Far From Home. Some would say the picture she paints of our global situation is bleak, dark even. I feel that it is accurate, even if it is difficult to face. But her book is not really about what we, civilization, faces but more about how we can face it. The word warrior requires a note at the beginning. Its use comes from the Tibetan word for warrior – “pawo, [which] means one who is brave, one who vows never to use aggression.” I find this an interesting paradox for leaders in today’s organizations!

    Spirit Warriors

    “[Spirit] warriors would not succumb to aggression or be paralyzed by fear. They would know where best to use their skillful means of compassion and insight.”

    The two core aspects of Spirit Warriorship, if this is a word, are compassion and insight.

    • Compassion is the capacity to live in the collective. The means for achieving compassion in our complex times include: a loss of fear when faced with challenge, the energy to “carry on” (which makes me recall the song “Wooden Ships” by Crosby, Stills, and Nash), and the ability to chose action when overwhelm threatens. I like this definition of compassion better than the commonly held version, it recognizes the need for choice and localizes compassion to the lived moment.
    • Insight is the capacity to see clearly into the interdependence of “all phenomena.” For those leaders who are not systems thinkers, this is the time to learn. If compassion leads us to action (and there are neurological studies that show compassion lights up the motor cortex of our brain), insight allows us to discern right action by seeing the interrelatedness that surrounds us.

    The experience of using compassion and insight create what Dugu Choegyal calls our “radical interconnectedness with all life.” (adapted by Joanna Macy)

    Lessons for Leaders

    This book has much to offer and I recommend it to those who want to better understand how the elements of quantum physics are informing business. For this blog I am focusing only on the last three chapters. Here are some behaviors Wheatley describes that allow you to contemplate your leadership and personal well-being:

    • Can you resist using negative emotions to motivate and instead rely on a positive belief in yourself and others?
    • Watch your own reactions to events and be mindful (a practice that is never mastered) of the impact they have on you and those around you.
    • Be aware of your inner dialogue and the lived story line that it creates. Our personal narrative becomes the mindset with which we perceive the world and react to it. When our inner dialogue includes compassion and insight we can pause before acting out.
    • Leaders today need to work with different maps because the terrain is not what it was when management and leadership were defined. The biggest challenge is letting go of where we are and understanding how we are.
    • These new maps have different signposts, which show up as questions rather than directions.
      • What are you learning?
      • What triggers you? How do you react when triggered?
      • What aspirations guide you in your daily work and interactions?
      • How are you refraining from adding to the fear, anxiety, and confusion of the times?
      • How did you apply your skills of compassion and insight today?
      • What are the ways you rejuvenate yourself and care for those around you?
      • What have you accomplished today that you can be quietly proud of, that will nurture your own well-being?
      • How did curiosity guide your actions today? Conversation? Connectedness?

    Leading wholeheartedly

    When I was writing my thesis I was a wreck. Every day I faced down a pile of blank pages, reams of data, and a backlog of information that hadn’t yet morphed into knowledge. Every afternoon my advisor, Cecil Doige, would suddenly show up, leaning against the door jam with a cookie in his hand. As he calmly ate his cookie he listened to my latest rant, disappointment, celebration, or challenge. I don’t recall that he ever gave me advice or provided solutions to my anguish; he just listened and asked questions. When I finally ran out of gas he would push off the door jam and say, “Glad you’re making progress.” Progress?? In the moment of my stunned pause, a piece of the puzzle invariably fell into place and progress was actually achieved. Cec was a Spirit Warrior.

    Meg’s admonitions to Spirit Warriors are simple and few:

    • Pick up the phone and call
    • Visit someone, stop by to listen
    • Offer your availability

    These were the things I needed and the things my Spirit Warrior offered.