Six Sigma and more: We are the ones…

David SchwinnLeadership, David Schwinn says, is more than a position, but requires reflection and a sense of purpose in whatever we do.

Well, she’s done it again. Our wonderfully generous friend and colleague, Margaret (Meg) Wheatley kicked off this year’s Chair Academy Conference in Phoenix. The beginning of her message remains dark, but the light at the end is a little clearer and brighter these days. We found her even more loving and inspirational than in the past. She got a standing ovation both before and after her presentation. She gave us a lot to think about.

Meg started by reminding us that we are all leaders…whether we know it or not. We influence the people around us either consciously or unconsciously. We might as well be purposeful about it. She suggested we might spend a little more time thinking together. The business of the world seems to conspire against thinking and the not-so-good results seem to abound all over the world.

To that end, she provided some specific tasks:

  • Find or, better yet, take time for personal reflection. Maybe a few more walks in the woods. Maybe a few more prayers. Maybe more time and space for meditation.
  • Be diligent and disciplined in that reflection. Don’t put it off because of a more “urgent” request. What could be more urgent than a little peace of mind? This is the best way to find peace–and couldn’t we all use a little more peace? Remember, others are watching.
  • Pay exquisite attention to relationships. Spend more time with those you love. Be intentional about becoming more deeply connected with all those around you. Find out who they are, where they come from, what their story is, and what their dreams are.
  • Set aside time and space for unstructured staff reflection when back at work. Have food and drink. One of the things my wife, Carole, and I learned in all our community development work was that food and drink brings more people and brings more depth to the conversations. In our program team at work, we begin every meeting with a check-in. We ask, for example, what do we need to let loose of before we can be fully present. We also have one day set aside each year to be together in an entirely unstructured way. Those two practices don’t seem like much, but they lead to deeper trust and affection and much easier, quicker, and better decisions when problems or opportunities arise.
  • Persevere. The world may be going to hell in a hand basket…but it has happened before. Our ancestors persevered. We stand on their shoulders.

Besides the tasks, Meg asked us to ask ourselves a few questions:

  • How quick are we to judge and blame? We all know intellectually, as Peter Senge pointed out so many years ago, that cause and effect are frequently widely separated in time and space…and they are usually not linearly connected. Finding someone to judge and blame is usually not productive, even though we seem to be naturally programmed to go immediately to the name-and-blame game.
  • How much significant learning comes from experience? A little of that personal or group reflection Meg asked us to engage in might help out our learning, thinking, and wisdom.
  • Another question seems related. How skilled are people at connecting the dots? If we understand that most problems do not come from a simple, linearly related cause, being able to connect the dots seems like a good skill to have. We all know about causal loop diagrams and flow charts, for example, but how often do we take the time to really use them?
  • Finally, if we continue to function in the way we currently function, will we be better or worse off in another year?

Meg closed with a most profound message from the elders of the Hopi Nation:

To my fellow swimmers:
Here is a river flowing now very fast.
It is so great and swift,
that there are those who will be afraid,
who will try to hold on to the shore.
They are being torn apart and will suffer greatly.
Know that the river has its destination.
The elders say we must let go of the shore,
push off into the middle of the river,
and keep our heads above water.
And I say, see who is there with you and celebrate.
At this time in history we are to take nothing personally,
least of all ourselves, for the moment we do,
our spiritual growth and journey come to a halt.
The time of the lone wolf is over.
Gather yourselves.
Banish the word struggle from your attitude and vocabulary.
All that we do now must be done in a sacred manner and in celebration.
For we are the ones we have been waiting for.

(A Prophecy from the Hopi Elders spoken at Oraibi, AZ, June 8, 2000, as attributed in the book  Perseverance, by Margaret J. Wheatley. (Provo, Utah, Berkana Publications, 2010)

We are the ones we have been waiting for. Let us remember. Our Six Sigma efforts will benefit. As always, I treasure your comments and questions. You can reach me by commenting below.