Thought Thursday: Age Old Wisdom on Leadership Development
Over 30 years ago, I was working at Penn State University as a Director of the Center for Student Leadership Development. My work at the time involved bringing together faculty, staff, civic and business leaders in the community to share their wisdom and mentor future student leaders. It was an exciting time, and together we built a network of colleagues who simply loved the opportunity to light the spark of service and leadership in students.
During that time, I had the privilege of researching alternative models for understanding diverse leadership styles. The ones I enjoyed most were well-researched models with surveys that revealed a primary, and in some cases, a secondary style preference.
My absolute favorite at the time was The Myers Briggs Type Inventory, based on Dr. Carl Jung’s theories of psychological types, but there were others that were impressive as well. Another I enjoyed was LIFO, developed by Dr. Stuart Atkins, which included an additional component of examining leadership behaviors in times of stress. Two more that I would recommend were the DISC tool, based on Dr. William Marston’s theories of leadership, and the Leadership Practices Inventory (LPI) developed by Jim Kouzes and Barry Posner.
The beauty of all these instruments was that they all had been thoroughly researched and included surveys, which were easily scored. Also, self-discovery was exciting and the opportunity to learn how to work across style was possible through helpful coaching.
Unfortunately, I found that too many times, people left sessions feeling boxed into a style or type and colleague stereotyping was part of the process, so I went on a journey to learn about alternative, more fluid approaches to developing leadership understanding and competency. From there, I was introduced to a model from one of my mentors, Rod Napier, an innovator in leadership education, who had taught at Temple University and authored several books on Group Dynamics and Leadership Development. Rod told me about an experience he had with a Native American Medicine Man and encouraged me to learn more.
It’s a long story, but through Rod and his colleagues I learned a model for understanding and valuing difference that I found to be life changing. The particular model I learned was from the Lakota Sioux nation and was called The Medicine Wheel. The model explains four places of power that we are all born with and can access as we travel on life’s path. Life’s path is what the Lakota Sioux call the “Sacred Red Road”. It’s a path that can lead us to not only understanding our self and others, but also to a more balanced approach to living our lives and stewarding the earth. The model is 5000 years old, and I believe it is the historical antecedent of all the models we presently work with as leadership development educators.
Over the next four weeks, I will be sharing with you all of the archetypal styles. Before I do that, I want to point out that we have access to all four parts through how we listen, learn and embrace our differences. You may even find, as I have, that those who may push our buttons may be our greatest teachers. As I was taught, we are subconsciously seeking balance and often find ourselves married to or in relationship with those who have part of the Wheel that we do not.
The Medicine Wheel has four places of power all identified with an animal totem and a color. They are the Yellow Eagle of the East, The Red Field Mouse of the South the Black or Brown Bear of the West and the White Buffalo of the North.
Once again, although we have all four parts within us, we tend to have one or two stronger areas of “power” places that we “sing” from, or have always been with us.
First, there is the East. The East is the place of sunrise; the dawning of a new day filled with possibilities and hope. The East is a place of optimism. The East in us lets go of things that happened yesterday and looks forward to creating something special for tomorrow.
The animal totem of the East is the eagle. The Eagle they say sees far out to the horizon and predicts what’s coming next well before others. Those with powerful East “medicine” begin every project with what Stephen Covey has called, “the end in mind”. They are visionaries. Here’s what’s interesting, even though those of us with East power are scoping the horizon for what’s up and coming, we can also swoop “down into the river” to pick up a salmon. This means we know when it’s time to get focused, but not until we have had ample time to circulate around things for a while.
So the East in us thinks circularly rather than in a linear fashion and gains clarity through divergent thinking. That is why East are often relied on to think out of “the box”, or sometimes even to burn the box altogether. When change comes, while some panic, a person with East power says, something like, “Wait, this could be interesting!” What I always say is, If you want to give a person with strong East “medicine” a death sentence, give them the same job to do with no variation for the rest of their lives. They’ll go crazy! To remember the East way in the world, it might be helpful to recall an old Disney tag line, “If you can dream it, you can do it!”
What a great array of strengths the East way offers. What I learned in my study of the Medicine Wheel, however, is that whatever is our greatest strength can easily become our greatest weakness, especially if we lack the capacity to access our other four places of power. For those with East power, the concern is: while I’m living in the world of ideas of what’s next, I lose my car in the parking lot. I can’t find my wallet or my keys. My office systems are horrible. I drive others and myself crazy by jumping from one area of interest to another. I bring stress to a project by tinkering with things in the eleventh hour, just when they thought we were at the finish line. Or I’m only reliable at the beginning/generative phases of a project and disengage when the details and hard repetitive work is needed to pull things through.
In summary, an East who is out of balance loses his or her ability to lead effectively. Over the next three weeks, we will review the other three places of the wheel and then pull it all together to help examine our road to better balance. Stay tuned!
To read about the other places on the medicine wheel discussed, click the following links:
Concentrics offers strategic planning, leadership coaching, team development and meeting and retreat facilitation to help prepare leaders and organizations to work in partnership and implement best practice in decision-making. For additional questions call us at 610-696-3950 or e-mail us at firstname.lastname@example.org. You can also visit us on Facebook and Twitter!