The tree and the wind teach me.
I know you’ve heard it before: ‘We need a leader with vision.’ In many ways, it is a variation on an old, worn theme: only leaders carry the vision torch. I disagree.
For me, it’s bad math, and it speaks to the perilous pitfalls of patriarchy. Worse, yet, it suppresses leadership in favor of salesmanship.
We are inundated these days by leadership gurus who tell us, repeatedly, it is the leader’s job to have a vision; more to the point, as the thinking goes, if a leader fails to unpack a compelling vision of their own, they will not be highly regarded and they can expect few, if any, followers.
Don’t believe a word of it.
In fact, if you take a long look at those same gurus, you will clearly see they don’t believe a word of it, either. Check ‘em out. Are they doing what they preach? Are their walk and their talk in sync? That is to say, are they looking for someone with a vision to lead THEM? Of course, not, because it is not in their best interest to do so.
Consider this: CEOs are believed to have vision; yet, how many of us typically follow them beyond what’s necessary to keep a job (grandeur and greed tend to get in the way)? Preachers, priests, rabbis, bishops, prophets, deacons, etc., tell us they have vision yet, in truth, how many of us follow them beyond the worship hour (when we do, it often risks being viewed as a cult)? School administrators across America, we are told, have vision; who follows them, especially those who frequently lack the consummate courage to stand up for the most vulnerable of our communities, our children? Politicians. There’s a fine lot. They certainly have vision; it’s in our face day and night. Yet, only when it is of, by, and for the people, do we ever follow them; hence, not to put too fine a point on it, how often is that? On an on.
Even when we decide to trust one of these ‘leaders’ enough to follow them, what typically happens? Who benefits? Is it the people? Not likely. Yet, our gurus continue to SELL us on the importance of following leaders with a vision. What they don’t say is this: they are hoping we will follow them. When we do, please know this: theirs is a vision shared by all self-interested ‘leaders,’ a vision of power, prominence, party politics, position, perks, popularity, promises (most broken), and/or profits that puts people in second place. They want us to follow them so THEIR vision, a vision wrapped in vain glory, will come to life. How can we tell? It’s not really complicated. If your leader is leading on behalf of the PEOPLE, they do not have to sell you their vision, because the vision they bring to life already belongs to YOU!
Many among us may also follow, perhaps in desperation, those who seem to be living out OUR dreams (e.g., entertainers, musicians, actors/actresses, athletes, authors, artists, etc.), but the wise help us to have eyes that see. They encourage us to look deep within so we may follow leaders driven in the same direction we, the people, are driven. They teach us to seek leaders whose walk speaks to us in ways that resonate with our souls. Why? Because these leaders ‘see’ where WE want to go, and they put OUR needs before their own. They lead us as no one else can because they bring OUR vision to life.
Vision belongs to the people; it always did. True leaders help to uncover it so that it may grow and flourish. It will take some time for many to see this. I can see it no other way.
How about you?
Be not dismayed. Tis true friends, darkness strives to disguise humanity while hatred deceives our knowing. Yet, like the deep blue sky high above the storm clouds of life, light and love patiently stand vigil.
You, my beauty-full friends, are that light and that love. It is you who stands against man’s inhumanity to man as a candle stands against the darkness, and it is you who steadfastly loves against the hate that blinds us to possibilities. You, my friends, are sweet humanity. You are love, and you are light. Because of you, all peoples can stand more firmly on the teachings of our elders, assured that after night comes day. Let us continue our diligent work to bring our world to a new dawning, a new day filled with love, light, and peace. Let us journey together as one, united by our dream, a dream of a better world where our children and our children’s children walk hand in hand as beloved friends. Waneeshee (may the way be beauty-full for you).
A recent Lead Change Group blog post by Jennifer Olney caught my eye, compelling me to comment. The post, Clarity Brings A Leader’s Vision to Life, raises a number of important questions. Although it leans toward the leader’s role and, by extension, expectations, the bigger issue, for me, is the place of the people. Jennifer opens her post with a widely held view:
Admittedly, I disagree with this assertion on so many levels: its premise, its direction, and its conclusion, to name but a few. My response follows. I’d appreciate your feedback (drjeking(at)yahoo(dot)com):
Jennifer, thank you for this post. As much as I want to support what you have to say (or, at least, the reasons we might say something like this), I keep thinking to myself our saying it doesn’t make it so, even if everybody is saying it. By propagating this kind of belief system under the cloak of leadership (i.e., the leader is the keeper of the vision flame), we lend credibility to it and, over time, we make it an acceptable outcome. Worse still, taking a marketing approach to leadership cheapens its very heart and soul by relegating the people we serve into mere objects (e.g., a talent to manage, a human resource, a constituent, a voter, a student, or an employee) and the means to an end (e.g., glory, fame, power, and profits). The people deserve so much better. I think this is what Stan Faryna is wisely trying to help us understand [with his comments].
When we come together to speak of vision, I’m generally left with the impression we are afraid to speak truth. When that happens, we leave too many important things unsaid, largely because we fail to honor those we purport to serve. Leadership, as you mention, is a privilege, a great privilege bestowed by the people (that’s why our engagement in this discussion is so vital). Among those so privileged, I hope we can agree few there are who truly can be called a visionary leader. We know them, not because of what they have to say as they unpack their ‘compelling’ vision but, rather, by what they do, and all of them DO the same thing: instead of bringing a vision to the people, they uncover the people’s vision and bring IT to life. Said differently, what sets the leader apart is their willingness to sacrifice everything to help bring clarity to the people’s vision. Everything.
I think we would agree authentic leadership at any level involves sacrifice; it may involve suffering. In truth, the only real reason to lead is because you can do something for those who have chosen to follow you. Let me say that in other terms: leadership is not about leading, it’s about being followed. As long as the people believe in you, and you are the best one to lead them, you are their leader. When our gifts are no longer needed, the people call on another to lead them. It’s nothing personal. People follow those who satisfy their imminent needs (e.g., a warrior, a peacemaker, a healer, an orator). Pure and simple. And we fool ourselves to think the peoples’ needs can be conveniently tied to a calendar, a contract, or a political process. The people do not hire or appoint leaders; they follow them. This is important to remember. Whether 7 years old or 77 years old, leaders are chosen by those who would follow them. Of course, self-proclaimed leaders far too comfortable with the status quo (provided it meet their needs) who fail to see the Beauty in service, community, compassion, and love, seem to think leadership is necessary because the people lack vision and, as such, it is their obligation (perhaps, destiny) to give them one.
Nothing could be further from truth. The people see through this vain glory, and they realize those who are busy unpacking their compelling vision are not leading, they are selling. Sadly, such ‘leaders’ are so busy looking past those they purport to serve/lead, they are seemingly unaware leadership is clearly beyond their reach. As mentioned above, no one can lead if no one follows. Moreover, no one can lead if they fail to put the people first, because they won’t be followed. Let’s ask ourselves, how many of the ‘leaders’ we know today are willing to sacrifice their small coaching business, their seminar revenue streams, their position at the top of a hi-rise hierarchy, their portfolios or profits, their ‘future,’ or their life for the good of the people? Probably none of them, right? Have we thought about why? Is it, as Stan points out, because they typically are self-absorbed and largely focused on ‘me’ rather than ‘we?’ There’s an easy way to find out: are the people expected to make sacrifices for the good of the company/organization or vice versa? Ironic, isn’t it? Sad, too. But it doesn’t have to be this way. The [Lead Change Group], for example, can be a guiding light that helps set the record straight by turning the present-day paradigm of leadership on its head, quite literally, if we can find the good courage to break free of the inertia that binds us to the status quo.
In simplest terms, Jennifer, if it is clarity we seek, may I suggest we forget what the gurus say and ask the people what they want to say.
Everywhere we turn, it seems, we find ourselves face to face with a humanity, especially given the advances of the twenty-first century, that is bogged down in war, divided, and afraid. Yet so many are resolved to turn their heads and pretend they do not see.
What kind of world are we returning to our children and to our children’s children? Is it a world worthy of their dreams?
The choice is ours. Perhaps it is time we looked upon the possibilities with our hearts, rather than with our eyes.
You see, friends, although it is tempting for us to think upon better times, even kinder, gentler times of the past before America left behind its time-honored role as a caring brother to strong-arm its way into history as the bully on the block with its perpetual offensive against peaceful men, women, and children everywhere for the petty sake of perks, profits, politics, party, and power, let us, instead, think ahead to a time not so distant that releases us from the grasp of man’s inhumanity to man, a time when human decency matters, a time when humanity and life matters. Such a day is near. A day of peace that celebrates life, a day that embraces the oneness of all that is.
Let us, therefore, be the first to place a proverbial candle on the sill of our journey’s window so all may see our hope in the dawning of that new day when the dark clouds of history roll away to welcome the warm light of a day worth hoping for, a day that celebrates a beauty-full world where all the sacred colors of man blend into a single hue of humanity that shines like a hundred suns!
Let us call that candle, ‘Love.’
A long time a go, perhaps like many of you, I learned there’s two sides to everything (with all of the implications that come from opposing views).
As the story goes, a master watchmaker held up a watch between two disagreeable friends and asked them to describe what they saw. Of course, one described the face while the other described the back. Both were right, and both soon realized the other was also right. Most of the time, we leave the story there. Truth is, there’s NEVER just two sides to a story. When we resolve a conflict by coming to terms with the notion there’s two sides to the story and both should be honored, we leave a much bigger question undone: What does the One holding the watch see? The lesson for me is simple: we should strive to see what the One sees. As we do so, we begin to see with our heart rather than with our mind (eyes), and we soon learn a watch is no longer necessary. #OneWorld #OneFamily #OneLove #Peace
Martin Luther King, Jr., believed, as I do, all life is intricately connected. “All men,” he said, “are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny. What affects one directly affects all indirectly. I can never be what I ought to be until you are what you ought to be, and you can never be what you ought to be until I am what I ought to be.” Martin later writes, “One of the great tragedies of man’s long trek along the highway of history has been the limiting of neighborly concern to tribe, race, class, or nation.”
We’ve all seen similar ‘tragedies’ play out where we live and work. We have choices to make. For those who choose to stand against conformity, listening and moving instead, as Martin would say, “to the beat [and echoing sounds] of a more distant drum,” I stand with you and, in so doing, I ask us to look further down the road. A slumbering giant stirs as the hearts of many are awakened to the pressing reality leadership is not about power, position, politic, perks, popularity, protocol, or prestige; instead, true leadership is about people, and it takes a courageous stand for community.
What awaits us? With certainty, we can expect obstacles, setbacks, and disappointments. That said, we can wrap ourselves in the comforting quilt of hope. Samuel Taylor Coleridge, struggling to identify himself within Nature’s world of purpose and business, writes in 1825, “Work without Hope draws nectar in a sieve, and Hope without an object cannot live.” Just as drawing nectar from a sieve is impossible so, too, is work without hope. This sentiment is especially telling as we consider the work before us invites a disturbing awareness, a realization the struggle, as striking as it may be, has never been about those things that divide us. Rather, it is about the condition of our hearts. To grapple merely with the issue of equal billing (race, gender, nationality, etc.) distracts us from meeting the world’s pressing need for authentic leadership.
That need, it seems to me, rests firmly in the desire to have more leaders, of all walks, with the strength to love; leaders with the courage to confront whatever threatens the attainment of the highest good (summum bonum) we seek (i.e., love), leaders who see great strength in diversity, and leaders who are willing to fight for a better tomorrow for all. For example, it is true a better future relies on more women leading us. But it is equally true a better future relies on more men leading us, too. But not because they are women or men. If we are to believe gender is that important, then we must ask which women? Which men? Educated? Indigenous? Wealthy? Powerful? Self-absorbed, or other-centered? And, from whence do they come? The workplace? A science lab? Home? The public square?
The lesson, for me, is clear: exclusion always divides, it never builds. The cause should never be about more black leaders, more white leaders, more women leaders, more young leaders; instead, a better future relies on more great leaders, more women — and more men — who truly understand and exemplify the serving nature of leadership. Though representation (e.g., race, gender, ideology, geography, etc.) is important, the world has tired of men and women of singular focus who, very self-servingly, do nothing for others (we need only look at US political ‘leaders’ for prominent examples, both male and female). Such representation fails us where we most need strong leadership: discerning matters of the heart. Only love can do that. And only leaders who recognize leadership, as its core, is love manifest are suitable for the task, whether they be women or men, young or old, red, brown, yellow, black, or white.
Herein must rest our hope, our allegiance, if we are to do the impossible and draw life-giving nectar from the sieve: follow leaders, male or female, who love.
Leading is not something one does; it is something one becomes. True leadership is about people, not position, power, or politic. It is the outward manifestation of a caring heart, passionately concerned for the preservation of justice, equity, and the universal good of the people. True leaders gently, yet decisively, move the rest of us to action through love, compassion, and inspiration. #Clapham2.0 #ServeToLead #OneWithThePeople
Paul Hawken wrote, “The university, the church, and the government have failed to provide the knowledge, inspiration, and leadership people need to move coherently as a society to a social good.”
As I think about what Paul is telling us, I am comforted because we, the people, have each other. And we have choices. If we want an end to war, it’s up to us to bring about peace. If we a want a currency system that erases the gap between the haves and the have nots by recognizing we’re all in this together and there’s plenty to go around, we can create it. If we want a sustainable earth, we can make it so. If we want to help heal those who are suffering, we can be a friend. If we want a world where leadership is shared (horizontal) rather than greedily controlled (vertical), we can begin serving one another. If we want to stop living in fear, we can take back our lives. And we can do it with or without the university, with or without the church, and with or without the government because we have learned the shackles that hold us in place fall away just as soon as we push fear aside.
As we escape the chains that bind us to the status quo, we (re)discover all we thought was lost (love, compassion, joy, truth), we restore hope in humanity, and we regain the value of a community working together to better the lives of everyone. As we reach our hand into the dark recesses of this world to help someone find their way back into the light of a new dawn, we begin to see, perhaps for the first time, that those things that truly matter are always with us … just like the bright blue sky can always be found just beyond every dark, storm-tossed cloud.
There’s work to be done, friends. Let it begin with me! One world. One family. One love.
Plant seeds of wisdom deep within your heart.
The Hopi have a wise saying: “Know your garden.” Do you know your garden? Is the soil fertile, or is it a soil dried and driven to and fro by disconcerting and damaging winds? Does it really matter?
Consider any garden. My beauty-full friend, Stan Faryna, planted several lovely gardens this year. What they teach — what all gardens teach — is that balance and harmony are not merely complimentary; they are one. As balance and harmony come together, we begin to see what our heart already knows: the meaning of life — of our life — is manifest in love; not because love is the destination but, rather, because love is the way. As John Lennon would say, “Love is the flower you’ve got to let grow.” Kahlil Gibran teaches, “Love is the only flower that grows and blossoms without the aid of seasons.” Those who make us happy, as Marcel Proust would tell us, “are the charming gardeners who make our souls blossom.”
Seems to me we owe them — those who make our souls blossom — our deepest gratitude because they see in us what we, ourselves, may yet be unable to see: we are that garden that grows, a garden of Love!
With this knowing, we can now be called to lead. That’s because the people do not seek leaders; they seek to know love.
As Beauty springs forth from your garden, the people draw near. It is a sure sign you now ‘know your garden.’