Wind Spirit

We are a mighty ship, built with the support, sacrifice and love of our families, as well as our determination, passion, and the will to make a positive difference. As Maya Angelou said, “Someone was here before me and someone has already paid for me.  I have a responsibility to pay for someone else who is yet to come.” Our teachers and mentors taught us how to sail and, as Maya Angelou would say, paid our way as did those before them who never knew our names.

Members of the Leadership Learning Group recently discussed the ship metaphor in the context of our academic community and leadership.  As we played with our thoughts, we talked about the students on our ship with their hopes, dreams and determination being the wind that fills our ship’s sails.  The power of our hopes, dreams and determination fill the sails too.  As an academic community, we have the responsibility to teach our students how to sail.  The ship’s rudder, our compass, and the stars represent our shared values, our strategic initiatives, and our mission. There is an almost magical quality to our ship because we have the ability to change its design as we go.  The seas capture multiple meanings of our ever-changing environment, including requirements from outside entities, that sometimes make the water rough.  And yes, there are storms, but as a community we adjust the sails to protect and focus on what is most important for our journey together.

This semester, the Leadership Learning Group is reading Margaret Wheatley’s book, Finding Our Way.  She wrote about our ability to come together and organize by saying, “Organization is a process, not a structure.”  She said, “…the process of organizing involves developing relationships from a shared sense of purpose, exchanging and creating information, learning constantly, paying attention to the results of our efforts, coadapting, coevolving, developing wisdom as we learn, staying clear about our purpose, being alert to changes from all directions” (p. 27).  Our leadership group talked about what leadership looked like on the ship.  It is important to realize we all have a responsibility for leadership.  As for the Captain, we trust s/he has had the experience of sailing long journeys with a good crew and knows when to make appropriate course adjustments to protect the community.

Our traditional, hierarchical model of leadership is necessary at some level, but a rigid hierarchy can result in people placing too much responsibility on leaders.  Margaret Wheatley addressed this by saying, “We observe a world where creative self-expression and embracing systems of relationships are the organizing energies, where there is no such thing as an independent individual and no need for a leader to take on as much responsibility for us as we’ve demanded in the past” (p. 22).  This speaks to the responsibility of leaders to continually appreciate the power within groups to create a powerful present and a promising future.

We are a mighty ship with a top speed that gives us time to be thoughtful and caring on our journey.  There are multiple ports of call where our students will get off of the ship to rest at the end of a semester and as they return, new passengers will join them.  This is a dynamic process with a final port that brings a graduation ceremony where some of the passengers will disembark to create their own professional communities.  The ability of our academic community to engage students’ learning of knowledge, skills and dispositions will determine their ability to be effective community members. Whether the sea is calm or rough, this is our primary focus as we pay it forward.

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

LaNae’, T. (2012, July). A Conversation with Dr. Maya Angelou. Retrieved March 2, 2014, from  http://mayaangelou.com/news/13/

Image (n.d.). Retrieved March 3, 2014 from: http://www.windstarcruises.com/deckPlan.aspx?plan=wind_spirit