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There are many people who write leadership books. Dr. Margaret Wheatley is one of these writers, but her writing is different. Like others, there is tremendous insight and wisdom in her words, but unlike many others, her lessons involve the heart as well as the mind. There is an organic quality to her wisdom that enlightens the way we interact with each other. While many leadership writers focus on the importance of relationships, she focuses on the importance of relationships in the context of community. In several previous blogs, I have shared her words that speak to community, “ …we can’t design anything that works without the involvement of all those it affects” (Wheatley, 2005, p. 110). Community is a focal lens though which she has helped others to create successful organizations. If fact, she believes the most vital resource for success is each other.

Dr. Wheatley helps us understand that we have the resources available, through our community, to create a transformative and meaningful future. We must work together in our communities (programs, departments, academic divisions, college) to nurture an intellectually stimulating and emotionally inspiring environment in which we all find deep purpose together. This takes courage. Margaret Wheatley addressed the need for courage when she said, “We need each other’s best thinking and most courageous experiments if we are to create a future worth wanting” (Wheatley, 2005, p. 99). Dr. Wheatley points out the etymology of the word courage as coming from the French word for heart, coeur. The previous quote that speaks of “courageous experiments” takes on deeper meaning with this knowledge. Take a few moments to reflect on this.

Is our current work together creating the future we as a community desire? How do our shared values inform how we do this? It is easy to blame and find fault. As a result, sometimes there are regrettable, reactive behaviors that hurt relationships within a community rather than adding positive purpose for our future together. There may even be times when aggressive emotion is directed toward you. If this happens, Dr. Wheatley (2011) recommends not adding to the aggression; rather, it is best to pause (something I have called the sacred moment) and respond calmly. We might find ourselves saying, “If only he/she would change.” Dr. Wheatley addresses this by saying, “We haven’t yet absorbed the simple truth that we can’t force anybody to change. We can only involve them in the change process from the beginning and see what’s possible. If change becomes meaningful to them, they will change. If we want their support, we must welcome them as cocreators” (Wheatley, 2005, p. 111).

Dr. Margaret Wheatley sees the way for moving forward as one that involves each person’s participation within the community. From a leadership perspective, she states, “It never matters how clear or visionary or important the message is. It can only elicit reactions, not straightforward compliance. If we recognize that this principle is always at work, it changes expectations of what can be accomplished with any communication. We can expect reactions as varied as the individuals who hear it. If we can offer our work as an invitation to others to engage with us, rather than as a plan or solutions, we will develop good, thinking relationships with colleagues. We’re inviting them to partner with us. And life accepts only partners, not bosses” (Wheatley, 2005, p. 90).

Being mindful of our communities and each person’s participation is critical. Some will find this easier than others, but our meaningful future together is worth any struggle it takes to get there. We shall not wait on the future because the future is found in present moments; we create the future we want through decisions and actions in each present moment.

I end with words from the Hopi Elders that Margaret Wheatley shared in a presentation she gave at the Dalai Lama Center in 2011. It would be well worth your time to watch the presentation. (She starts speaking 14 minutes and10 seconds into the presentation. There also is a singer-songwriter who performs periodically). These are the words of deep wisdom from the Hopi Elders:

fast_river

There is a river flowing now very fast. It is so great and swift that there are those who will be afraid. They will try to hold on to the shore. They will feel they are being torn apart, and they will suffer greatly.

Know the river has its destination. The elders say we must let go of the shore, push off into the middle of the river, keep our eyes open, and our heads above the water. See who is in there with you and celebrate.

At this time in history, we are to take nothing personally. Least of all, ourselves. For the moment that we do, our spiritual growth and journey comes to a halt.

The time of the lone wolf is over. Gather yourselves!

Banish the word struggle from your attitude and your vocabulary.

All that we do now must be done in a sacred manner and in celebration.

We are the ones we’ve been waiting for.

–The Elders Oraibi Arizona Hopi Nation

Bonus Question: What actions can you take today to strengthen your communities?

Wheatley, M.J. (2005). Finding our way: Leadership for and uncertain time. San Francisco: Berrett-Koehler Publishers, Inc.

Wheatley, M.J. (2011, October 19). Perseverance: Leadership in Turbulent Times. Retrieved September 15, 2013, from http://dalailamacenter.org/programs/speakers-series/margaret-wheatley/event

Image (2013). Retrieved September 15, 2013 fromhttp://www.myjewishlearning.com/blog/southern-and-jewish/2013/02/04/momentsmisunderstanding/

Image (2011). Retrieved September 15, 2013 fromhttp://www.flashofwhite.org/2011/10/hopi-elder-speaks/