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A gift from a stranger

Michael Jones

As we enter the season of celebration and gift-sharing, consider leaving a space at the table for the stranger: the one who communicates intangible gifts in the form of emotional truths about ourselves that we may not discover on our own.

To read more please visit management – issues.com

This fall I have been invited to post regular monthly columns  with  Management – Issues  one of the top business and leadership sites on the web with a readership of over 70,000 mid and senior level leaders worldwide. The columns will expand on  themes from my most book; The Soul of Place: Re-imagining Leadership Through Nature, Art and Community.

In addition  to my regular comments I will feature  excerpts from these columns as they are posted  with links to the Management- Issues site.

I hope you enjoy them!

warmest wishes

Michael

Business: The Enterprise of Humanity

Business isn’t an exercise in numbers, it is an enterprise of humanity that is an inalienable part of life. So if we focus on taking care of the people in our enterprise and harness our intuitive capacity to co-create together, business will take care of itself.

………………………………………………………………………..

Several years ago I read an interview with award winning broadcast journalist Bill Moyers and CEO and poet James Autry. Autry was among thirty-four poets that Moyers was interviewing as part of a PBS Series on The Language of Life through exploring commentaries on poets and poetry.

During the interview Moyers seemed puzzled as he tried to understand how Autry could cross over from celebrating his poetry at public festivals to reading it to his supervisors and staff in the competitive – and often tough- minded – world of the publishing business.

To which Autry replied; “ Its crucially important for business people to feel that what they’re doing in business is life. There is only life and business is part of that.” Autry replied.

Business is ‘an enterprise of humanity’ he added and art gives leaders permission to express a range of human emotions including pain, sorrow, fear and joy that they may not feel otherwise. Business is people and when we focus on the taking care of the feeling life and the humanity in the people in the enterprise, business will take care of itself.

In this context even the language of teams and teamwork may inadvertently conjure up many associations with the competitive language of battle and sports and so subliminally affected how we do business. In its place we may look toward the language of neighborhood, to fellowship and to being in community together.

to read more

http://www.management-issues.com/opinion/6957/business-the-enterprise-of-humanity/

 

               Where is Home? Leadership and the Soul of Placemaking

       Michael Jones

 

Wherever you stand, be the soul of that place.

Your bright gaze will kindle this old shadow world to

Blaze up once again with the fire of faith.

 

– Rumi, One Song

 We are shifting from the industrial age and the age of information and technology to the biological age where we are asking how do we create spaces for life to happen and align our thinking with how nature thinks. In my new book The Soul of Place I explore how our relationship with place in nature, art and community deepens our connection with the core energetic patterns that form the undercurrents of life and living systems.

 

Patterns of Placemaking

 

Homecoming

 

The first pattern is Homecoming in which we ask; where is home and how do we find our way there? Most of our leadership metaphors are focused on growing up and upward mobility and the ladder of success. What if we balanced this upward organic motion with also growing down. To grow down is to have an embodied experience of place and   become native to the ground we find ourselves on. We have a curriculum for upward mobility; we need a parallel curriculum for homecoming – including making fertile the places we find ourselves. To come home to ourselves is to find our own personal myth and rediscover how our enchantment with nature, art and community connects us with the whole of life.

During a recent six-day retreat where we explored the soul of place we listened to the voices of participants express their hopes in a spirit of homecoming and welcome. Towards the end of our sharing we observed that our words felt distant and abstract. Later in the morning, when participants each shared an offering in the form of a project, story or question they wished to offer the group, we did so outside in nature on the rocks, among the trees or by the water. And each spoke at a time and place of their choosing while standing and feeling the ground beneath their feet. Images of digging in the dirt, making fertile ground, building soil and creating a home for new and fragile ideas guide us towards finding our deeper identity through place in ways that make visible the spirit and story of this place. So in the pattern of homecoming we may ask: what is this place asking of me? what is my gift and what am I uniquely called to do? How can I set a context for others to understand my perspective and what can I learn from noticing the felt life that is unfolding within my own interior landscapes of place?

 

 

Belonging

 

The second pattern is Belonging in which we ask; what is the nature of our relationship with the people and places that we hold sacred? The urge to belong to a place is basic to the tissue that connects all of life – a pattern of aliveness that brings us into alignment with the ecology of nature and discovering how nature thinks. And in nature everything belongs to everything else. Belonging involves re-imagining our world to include; a new network, a sacred circle of relationship, and the connective tissue of life-giving relationships that align us to the essence of nature and how nature works and connects. How do our sacred relationships connect us to other communities? What would it mean for our perspective to become more global and inclusive of the stranger and not just our tribe? How do I belong to this place in ways I don’t belong anywhere else? How can I embrace diversity both within my community and with life in its largest sense?

 

Regenerativity

 

 

The third pattern is one of Regenerativity. To be regenerative is to be committed to the conscious evolution of life. It involves a shift in focus from problem solving and making the visible, actionable to sensing patterns of flow and relationship that make the invisible, visible. In so doing we create beauty through seeing all that we do as a form of craft and embracing craftsmanship as the expression of place through the hands and the heart as well as the mind. To be regenerative is to act and, at the same time, to also be acted upon. To be moved to create through forces greater than ourselves is what connects regenerative action to the local conditions and other resources found in the places themselves.   Therefore to be regenerative is to ask; what is the nature of the place that I am creating from? What is the tone of this place and how as a leader do I want to carry this tone for both myself and others? What can we create together? Where are the places we go to find beauty and how can we fill a space in a beautiful way?

 

Carnival

 

The fourth pattern is Carnival which includes engaging the life generating forces of ritual and transformative celebration. Whenever we gather together and enliven the senses through art, music, storytelling, poetry and movement we are evoking the Carnival spirit. Carnival is the upturning of the established order and – like the bright green blades of grass rising up through concrete – making a place in the world for the raw unformed impulse of life to burst through.The sense of gathering together on the public square or in the commons, bringing together diverse energies, expressing the democratic spirit and upturning the old for the new are a catharsis of this energy. It represents a third force reinstating our sense of home for ourselves in the larger world and in the universe.

Creating the Conditions for Life to Flourish

The primary question underlying the book The Soul of Place is: if we are entering the biological age in which our primary work is to come alive to community, to the creative spirit, to nature and ecology and with the soul of place where we find it – then what is it that causes life to wither or to flourish?

And the answer may be that life flourishes when our focus shifts from absolute truth to inner truth, from separation and isolation to connection, from efficiency and control to trust in the re-generativity of life and from scarcity and limits to abundance and joy.

For example:

  1. With homecoming our deference to external authority, absolute truth and the need for perfection shifts to valuing our own authenticity, including the wisdom to lead from the place within us that includes our gifts and the wisdom of our own inner nature.
  2. The belief in separation shifts to the search for belonging and an empathic resonance with our world, including an appreciation for our connection to home, to nature, to local wisdom and to who we essentially are.
  3. The focus on efficiency and control shifts toward a trust in the conscious evolution of life including the sense that we can approach life’s challenges with grace and ease and an appreciation for life’s natural unfolding and a willingness to let go and let be.
  4. And the belief in scarcity shifts to an appreciation that, while we may need to work within certain limits, the natural world bursts forth based on the principle of abundance and so is replenished, not diminished, by our efforts. Furthermore, when our work is aligned with nature, we not only sustain life, we create life.

When we deepen our relationship with place through nature, art and community we also steward the discovery and articulation of an overarching collective mythic narrative of place that brings these patterns of place alive. Most leaders don’t want to only belong to a job or even a career. They want to belong to a story, and particularly to a story that is mythic in its possibilities and place- based.

Too often the places we create remain placeless because they don’t include our stories. So nurturing these patterns of life and the fabric of the larger mythic narrative that holds them begins with coming together and telling our stories. Recounting these larger than life narratives of place is itself an act of joyous celebration and part of the leaders’ emerging work as stewards and placemakers.

 

 

 

Being the Soul of That Place

 

 By looking at place not only as something to return to but also something to grow out from –orienting us to the future and not only the past; and by realizing that a place is not an object or a thing, but a power and a presence, we can partner with place in a way that is itself deeply transformative, opening our hearts to the experience of beauty, aliveness and possibility.

 

The Sufi Poet Jalauddin Rumi once wrote; ‘wherever you stand be the soul of that place” When we stand in the felt experience of our own homecoming and align with the flow of life, the soul of place will blaze up once again and we will stand in our new life with the fire of faith.

 

Adapted from The Soul of Place; Re-imagining Leadership Through Nature, Art and Community MichaelJones, Friesen Press, 2014

also visit http://www.thesoulofplace.com

 

 

 

 


 

 “You could listen to one of his songs and learn how to live.”

- Bob Dylan on the music of Woody Guthrie

 

Several years ago I was a thinking partner with John, a senior leader in marketing and sales with a global pharmaceutical company. The purpose of our conversations was to explore the relationship between artistry and leadership.

Many of our meetings occurred, not at the office, but on long walks along the wandering pathways of a lakeside park near my rural home. As we talked the wind, the light and waves and the cry of the gulls became a third partner that accompanied our explorations.

On one of our walks we discussed what it means to create respect in the workplace.

John started the conversation with an interesting insight;

“When I think of this process of respect it seems to involve a shift in our attention from goals and outcomes– to a reverence for each moment. Reverence opens the way to respect, and it is difficult to generate respect when your mind is focused primarily on a narrow set of goals.”

“Yes,” I said; The root of respect is to ‘look again’ When I think of respect in the context of an artistry I recall many years ago attending a piano concert at university performed by jazz artist Don Shirley.He opened the concert with a composition titled; ‘I Can’t Get Started’ and what I carry with me still is how all of life was contained in the experience of hearing those first three notes.”

My experience was echoed in the words of singer songwriter Bob Dylan, who said, in explaining his being absorbed as a teenager in the music of Woody Guthrie;

“You could listen to one of his songs and learn how to live.

Those notes had such a quality of reverence to them. And I think the reverence came from the respect he had for his audience, for his fellow musicians, for the piano, for the concert hall – even the cold wet weather outside – he held everything in his field with reverence.  It is as if it had taken him his whole life deepening the respect he had or his art in order to arrive at this place and bring everything he had into that one moment in time.

“For me, this is where the life of the leader and the artist intersect,” John said. “Leaders can learn a lot from artists about respect for the moment, of pausing and listening for the spaces between the notes. In leaders’ terms, it’s the space between the words. Sometimes leaders are so focused on outcomes that they can’t leave space to listen to other points of view; their mind is already made up. They know where they want to go and only want others to help get them there.”

“That’s what most impressed me with that piano concert,” I said,

“He wasn’t trying to get somewhere. Too often we miss the possibilities that attention to the moment might bring. If one leadership story is focused around realizing goals, there is another, a more artistic way of leading that is connected to the flow of experience. To find these moments we need to step off the path of our own habits and routines.”

In this context I recalled the words of poet W.S. Merwin, who

wrote; “If you can get one moment right, it will tell you the whole thing. And that’s true of your own life – each moment is absolutely separate  and unique and it contains your entire life.” (Merwin, 2005)

“That’s true,” said John. “These moments build up through a precision of listening and seeing. I sense that there is a gradual awakening of attention – of bringing back from sleep such elemental aspects of the human experience as our relationship with nature, as well as with poetry, music and the spoken word – all these forms of art awaken this inner perception.”

And this perception influences our own way of seeing. We can either look upon our world as an object  – lifeless and inert – or we can see it as a living presence that is continually unfolding  – each moment absolutely unique like musical notes on the piano keys  – and each part also containing within it the pattern of the whole.

References:

W.S. Merwin, Departures and Returns by Christopher Merrill in Poets and Writers magazine (July/August 2005)

A Reverence for the Moment is adapted from Artful Leadership: Awakening the Commons of the Imagination Michael Jones  (2006, Trafford)

To order please visit:

www.amazon.com/Artful-Leadership-Awakening-Commons-Imagination/

or in Canada

The Roots of Aliveness

It has often been said that our span of awareness is a mile wide and an inch deep. The quality of our inner life is frequently overlooked in our efforts to cope the daily demands and expectations of our outer life. One enabling metaphor that helps us look at this is the ecology of a tree. The outer life is symbolized by the leaves and branches – they correspond to life of reactivity and busyness- of action plans, performance goals, desired outcomes and results. Sometimes we direct our attention down a little, to the trunk and lower limbs. Here we look at structures, strategies and processes. Where we spend the least of our time is the ground underneath. Yet it is the roots and the soil that give the tree resilience and the strength to grow and weather sudden changes year after year.

The shift from focusing on the trunk and the branches to the ground beneath corresponds to a shift of awareness from a factory/ production to a more adaptive/ artful mindset. Giving our attention to the ground of being beneath an organization, a community- or a tree involves an artful process of creating form out of the ambiguous circumstances and variable conditions we find ourselves in. This includes the very precise and complex interaction among many subtle variables including energy and space as well as tone, atmosphere, rhythm and time. The language shifts from action and meaning to story, to metaphor, to felt experience and the underlying stillness that holds it all.

Root systems, like artists learn to create in the moment, to search for the soil conditions that feel most fertile and ‘alive’, to inquire, to sense and absorb, to follow their attractions, invent and change course in the moment and feel their way. In other words, roots, in their search for connective and fertile ground , travel a road less traveled, just as we do as we seek to find our own way.

Yet we are still influenced by industrial age mind set that impedes our ability to adapt creatively in a time of complexity and sudden change. We still tend to rely, not on our own deep intuition but upon the perfection of external authority, of preconceived, of sequenced actions and mechanisms for scheduling and control.

As management theorists Henry Mintzberg and Alexandra McHugh write;

Strategies (and this may apply for life as well as leadership and organizational strategies) grow like weeds in a garden; they are not cultivated like tomatoes in a hothouse…sometimes it is more important to let patterns emerge than to foresee an artificial consistency… sometimes an individual actor …creates his or her own pattern…and other times, the external environment imposes a pattern. In some cases many different actors converge around a theme, perhaps gradually, perhaps spontaneously; …to manage in this context is to create a climate within which a wide variety of strategies can grow…to watch what does in fact come up and not be too quick to cut off the unexpected…

What can we do to create the ground for roots systems that are also resilient and life affirming?

Letting Go
We need to release our industrial age or mechanistic ways of thinking – including our needs for planning and control – in order to accept a much wider range of variations and possibilities. This corresponds to the musicians open stage, where their repertoire and what they do well may need to be set aside in order to be open to the aliveness of the moment – and to follow its leading wherever they may go. In other words, in a living process the process itself IS the content. As such, it tends to unfold based on what feels most right alive and true. It cannot be preconceived or created fully in anticipation or out of a concept formed in advance.

Emergence
As a pianist and composer I go over a composition time and time again listening and feeling for the underlying pattern that is emerging from beneath. In this way I make a lot of mistakes and go down blind alleys as I explore the emerging compositions many changing ways. Each iteration contributes to enhancing and enriching my auditory imagination so that I am able to make better aesthetic choices later on. In this context to be iterative is not to correct errors or mistakes but to engage them so as to be more aligned with a process of emergence that lies beneath. Working in this way holds within it a sense of taking our art into our body, such that there is a sense of both naturalness and simplicity to it even when it may appear difficult and complex to someone observing it from the outside.

Purposefulness
While a living process may often appear random, chaotic and even wrong headed from the point of view of the observer, it is actually highly efficient, coherent, even elegant and inevitable when experienced from within. The reason for this is that a living process unfolds within ‘liminal space’ one in which the continuity and smoothness of transitions generally unfold naturally and organically. This is particularly true when we trust that the container itself carries the seed of it own unfolding potential for what is to come next. It is when we try to move ahead by force of will or through tension, urgency or effort that this internal order is disturbed and our progress impeded.

Collaboration
One primary qualification for guiding others in a living process is less on what we know and more upon our capacity for holding presence with the unknown. That is, to be curious and open to whatever is emerging in our awareness that appears to be fuzzy, ambiguous or unclear. This capacity for sense making is amplified when we are together and diminished when we are apart. That is, there is a power that comes to us when we meet as an ‘ensemble’ where, for a moment, we forget ourselves and work for the benefit of the larger whole. Creating spaces for exploring what we do not yet know, spaces where we can be present to what is unformed and incomplete, sets in motion a process of unfolding order, a practice which has always been familiar for the artist but unfamiliar to others whose have been educated into a more parts – based mentality that is common in the industrial world. Once this living process is initiated, it will follow along the trajectory of its own unfolding potential – one that is natural, organic and unrepeatable – and which reflects the expression of wholeness as it appears to us in that particular moment.

Rest
All work is half rest. Nature cannot thrive in full flower all the time. Nor can we. We need time to empty to digest, assimilate and to be still. Dormancy and decay are as a much part of the life force as is growth and flowering. The absence of this deep time of gestation can lead to confusion and erosion of the force of life itself. Wayne Muller in his book Sabbath reminds us that a successful life can also be a violent life. To live a deeply rooted life is to find and create a home for oneself. Plants can only grow as high as they grow deep. To do otherwise is to be at the mercy of the atmosphere, we can only blend with its strong forces if we are deeply rooted within ourselves. Too often the sense of duty and responsibility overrides our intuition and good judgment. It becomes difficult to settle. Yet As Wayne Muller suggests, the world aches for just that – the generosity of well rested people.

Closing
French Painter Georges Braque once wrote; on art there is only one thing that counts: the thing you can’t explain. In the busyness of our days we often forget this mystery particularly as it relates to what lies in the ground beneath our feet. Yet what sits above can feel to us like an over worked and over – processed world – superficial, fabricated, manufactured and refined. Too often that which feeds does not fill us. We hunger for something real – words, ideas, connections, possibilities, food good enough to be eaten, food that still has the roots and dirt on. Perhaps these are the hungers we hold for leaders, to be people who live embodied and conscious lives, who are rooted to the land, who are vital and alive, who know what they love and where they belong, leaders who, when they speak, tell us who they are, how they live and… where they come from.

References
Rob Austin and Lee Devin Artful Waking: What Managers Need to Know About How Artist’s Work (Prentice Hall Financial Times 2003)
Michael Jones Artful Leadership Awakening the Commons of the Imagination (Pianoscapes 2006)
Henry Mintzberg and Alexandra McHugh ” Strategy Formation in an Adhocracy’ Administrative Science Quarterly, 30, no 2 (June 1985) 160 – 197 Found in Artful Waking P 26.
Wayne Muller Sabbath: Finding Rest, Renewal and Delight in Our Busy Lives Bantam 1999

Hi Everyone

This summer I am looking forward to  publishing a new book titled;

The Soul of Place; Re-Imagining Leadership Through Nature, Art and Community

Here is an excerpt

thanks for following my blog posts on Leading  Artfully

Michael

Re –Imagining Community

Finding Common Ground Through Stories of Place.

Michael Jones

http://www.pianoscapes.com 

We cannot talk about community without first talking about place

   Peter Block

Questions of identity and quality of place need to be in the forefront of our thinking now. Not only are they questions that inspire creative endeavors, these questions also inspire leaders and the communities they lead. And communities that foster a culture of place may hold a distinct advantage over those that see their priorities largely in technical or economic terms.

Each community has a story of place that defines its character and uniqueness. It is a story that reflects a community’s unique dreams, history, economy and people as expressed through its aspirations, accomplishments, challenges and possibilities.  Understanding the uniqueness of its stories of place is the foundation for building an innovative economy. And an engaged community is the most knowledgeable resource for creating a story for the future that reflects the uniqueness of the place in which we want to live now.

Stories of place are made more vibrant when rooted in the identity and unique heritage of a particular region and locality. These stories of rootedness to place contribute to regenerating community when considered in the broad context of the natural, built and cultural, economic and social environment that defines its current distinctiveness and future potential.

A story of place is how a community creates a unique brand for itself. An identifiable and unique place – based brand differentiates one community from another.  It also creates a shared vision that shifts a community’s thinking and values from focusing on parts and problems to focusing on potential and opportunity, from seeing change as expert and outside driven to co –creating together through a process of self discovery and collaboration and shifting the focus from   working with isolated symptoms and quick fixes to seeing the underlying patterns and connections between things as a whole.

For example; at a recent conference where a group of community leaders in Atlantic Canada were asked about what the story of place meant for them, they reflected on finding common ground in their deep ties to land and sea – to a mist filled land both gentle and unyielding and to the

enduring loyalty to their stories and community. This long history of living on a sea -

bound coast gave them the gift of a perspective larger than any one person or any

individual’s self interest.

For the Chippewa First Nations community near Orillia, Ontario one defining narrative

of place is that their land sits on the confluence of two distinct biospheres, where the

granite rock of the Canadian Shield to the north meets the limestone plain to the south. This is

The Land Between and their story is about living in a meeting place between two distinct ecosystems and how to make the best of living in not one, but two worlds.

Sometimes stories of place can be distilled to one story and a tagline that does not reduce the story to a slogan but instead speaks to the essence of the place itself.

For example;

In a partnership between a community art gallery that wanted to create a place to display the work of artists with mental health challenges in a partnership with the Canadian Mental Health Association the story of place was ‘Gifts in Shadow’.

For Quaker Foods, their story finds its place in the American Heartland.  ‘Breakfast is amazing’ served as the story of place for reconstituting their product line with heart healthy oatmeal with which to start each day.

And for a San Antonio based engineering company that was a global leader in alternative energy technologies, their employee engagement strategy was constructed around creating a community of conversations, the roots of which originated in the shared experience of growing up in the  front porch culture of West Texas.

Community stories that are specifically place based achieve several things;

-They help individuals see their ‘value added’ role in how they can serve the larger whole

-They offer an opportunity for everyone to belong to a story.

- They serve as the common ground for building a long-term strategic plan.

-They elevate the collective identity of a community.

-They enhance the quality of health and well being for everyone.

-They reassert and build upon the significance of its heritage story

-They serve as a unifying force around which culture, tourism, economic development and social initiatives can align.

Stories of place move us to action by engaging diverse members in the community in continuous cycles of dreaming and manifesting in new and innovative ways.  They serve as the catalyst through which a community continuously regenerates and re – imagines itself and the form in which its sense of vocation  and  destiny may be realized.

This leads us to ask;

1. Where have we experienced a connection to place that has inspired our imagination? Where was it and how did it feel?

2. When have we had a similar experience in our community (buildings, nature, groups, neighbourhoods, heritage etc) where we have also felt most  ‘at home’ that is; places that offer the greatest sense of connection, aliveness, vitality and satisfaction?

3. How do these places inspire our aspirations and dreams – our story of place – for the future?

4.  How does this story reflect the richness and accomplishments of our heritage past?

5. In what ways does a sense of place create a unique brand or voice for our community  – that is, a signature theme that would draw visitors to the area?

6. What challenges and opportunities does the community face at the present time – the gap between what we want and what is – that a story of place may help resolve?

7. What gifts and assets do we have now in the community that would serve as catalysts for creating a story of place?

8. What leadership capacities will be needed to develop this story for the future?

Too often, we attempt to undertake large systemic transformational changes without

taking into account the unique characteristics of the place we are in.

Most communities are not at a loss for innovative ideas. What they may overlook

however is how to partner with these unique qualities and features of place  -

- the soil we inhabit – that enables these seeds of innovation to take root and grow.

By looking at place as both something to return to and also something to grow out

from –orienting us on a trajectory that includes the future and the past; and by realizing that a place is not an object or a thing, but a power and a presence, we can partner with it in a way that is itself deeply transformative, opening our hearts to the shared  experience of beauty, aliveness and possibility.

…………………………………………..

Michael Jones www.pianoscapes.com

Following the Thread of Aliveness – Discovering What Our World is Trying to Be 

Michael Jones: www.pianoscapes.com

 

There is a thread you follow that goes among the things that change

William Stafford  The Way it Is

a Few weeks ago I gave a keynote presentation in Colorado  for an  Chamber of Commerce awards dinner recognizing the outstanding  gifts and contributions their leaders had brought in introducing  heath and well being to their communities.

I opened my presentation with a line from a poem by William Stafford, a much loved and prolific poet from the American Mid West.

“Your job is to find what the world is trying to be”

These words come from the last line Stafford’s poem Vocation – The words vocation and voice come from the same root vocare which means to follow what we are uniquely called to do.

And that is what these leaders held in common. They had discovered what they were uniquely called to do – and through finding their voice they had also helped bring into the light the personal voices of those around them.

As an improvisational musician I am instinctively drawn to taking a poetic line and exploring its melodic possibilities. So Stafford’s line may also read….

Our job is to discover what our life is trying to be

 or our job is to discover what our voice is trying to say.

 Implied in this question is that there is a natural order to how things unfold that will lead us to the things that really matter – poems, music, leaderful actions – if we don’t interfere.

Stafford believed that to be connected to this natural order we needed stay in alignment with what is already unfolding.  That is, to be careful to distinguish between what is occurring naturally from what we believe ought to be happening.  When Stafford did this – asking what these fragments of thoughts, patterns and images where trying to say – poems came to him freely and abundantly.

For leaders this means that instead of trying to impose their will based on what they believe ought to happen  – they instead maintain a heightened state of attention for what is already  alive in the situation and emerging  naturally. Though the future cannot be predicted, it can be imagined and felt. So rather than avoiding surprise, leaders can instead embrace uncertainty and learn from the unexpected.

To embrace uncertainty we need a central image that enlivens our imagination and helps us hold faith in the future as we cross uncertain ground.  For William Stafford this enabling image was the golden thread.

He wrote;

There’s a thread you follow. It goes among

things that change.  But it doesn’t change.

People wonder about what you are pursuing.

You have to explain about the thread.

But it is hard for others to see.

While you hold it you can’t get lost.

This image of the thread (Inspired from a poem by William Blake which begins with the line, I give you end of a golden string) reminds us that in those moments when we are most uncertain and confused and don’t know how to proceed– life knows what it is doing.  In celebrating those leaders who received the recognition for their outstanding service to furthering community health and well being- we were also celebrating ourselves.

We closed the session sharing stories of a time when we felt most vital, alive and engaged as leaders. In this world of complexity and constant change when it is difficult to have confidence in a long term plan or strategy, there is a thread we can follow and it is the thread of our own aliveness.  We hear this aliveness in the stories we tell.  And if we stay the course we may in time discover that this thread of aliveness is also leading us to the place we will recognize as home once we arrive.

References

Michael Jones Leading Artfully; Awakening the Commons of the Imagination   Bloomington Indiana Trafford 2006

William Stafford The Way It Is; New and Selected Poems St Paul Minn. Graywolf Press 1999

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