Age Old Wisdom On Leadership: The Way of the South
In our last Thought Thursday, I talked about the strengths and excesses of East Power. This particular leadership style is characterized by vision, optimism, and the ability to think out of the box. When one relies too much on a single style or strength, it is easy to get out of balance and lose our leadership effectiveness. A person with great East characteristics can also be poor with details and follow through. Here’s a visual reminder of the East place in terms of its value and its excess.
Today, I’m going to describe The Way of the South. The South place on the Medicine Wheel can be easily remembered with the color of red – for High Noon. Instead of what is happening next, which is a concern of those with East power, people who have with highly developed South traits are focused on what is happening right now, and especially what those around them are doing in the current moment. If I have strong South “medicine” and I’m in the presence of an individual who is suffering or feeling anxious and unsafe, those feelings transfer to me, causing me to experience their discomfort and wanting to do something about it. The animal totem of the field mouse represents the South because field mice build beautiful nests for their young, making sure they feel comforted and safe.
If I’m on a team in a work setting that is trying to solve a problem, I might say, “Let’s make sure we have the right stakeholders ‘in the nest’ and engaged in this project before we go too far in trying to solve a problem we can fully understand.” That’s real South medicine!
What I was taught is that those with South traits have a knack of making you feel like the most important person in the room. They listen better than others. They are quicker to affirm your strengths and find common ground. They are more patient than most with the emotional components of challenges. They have what Daniel Goleman, Richard Boyatzis, Mark Bracket and others call “Emotional Intelligence” or EQ. The Lakota Sioux called those with great South power the “Keepers of the Secrets” or “A Place of Calm Waters”. They put a premium on relationships, develop trust quickly and maintain the confidences of others. Although many people in leadership say they have an open door policy, those with South power actually have people coming into their offices, sitting for a spell and sharing.
What a great array of strengths the South 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 South power, that means when they are busy taking care of everyone else, there is someone they may not be taking care of enough at all-themselves. What I have come to observe after years of studying the wheel is that when a person relies exclusively on their South strengths to lead, they are inclined towards what those in addiction counseling call “co-dependent or enabling behaviors”. They rescue people who should be taking care of themselves. They do the work of other people in order to avoid conflict and smooth things over rather than addressing problems, which might hurt another person’s feelings. Because of this, a person with South power can swallow their frustration for a long time; but watch out, like a long fuse, one day something is said or done and they EXPLODE with anger and frustration, confusing both themselves and others.
In summary, a person whose South is out of balance loses his or her ability to lead effectively. Over the next three weeks, we will review two more 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 parts of the medicine wheel discussed, click the following links:
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