The Way of the Warrior: North Power on the Medicine Wheel
In my last entry, we were three quarters of the way around the Medicine Wheel and revealed the strengths and weaknesses of the West way. A person with West medicine is a masterful critical thinker and a reliable problem solver with a capacity to engineer projects and produce long-term sustainable solutions. When out of balance with the other directions of the Medicine Wheel, the result is analysis paralysis, resulting from spending too much time perfecting every single detail of a project. The cost of analysis paralysis is failure to complete tasks on time and/or loss of opportunities which are only available if one is willing to act right now.
Here’s a visual cue of the West place on the Wheel:
Today, I’m going to focus on the North way, or what we call: The Way of the Warrior. To remember the characteristics of this style, it is helpful to focus on a time of day and an animal totem. The time of day for the North way is a clear, starry night. The animal totem is the Buffalo. The North way in the world is to be as crystal clear as a starry night, and to move forward as relentlessly as a charging Buffalo. Those with strong North Medicine size up priorities quickly and act decisively on what they see as the best way forward. They are also willing to break through any “fences” that would prevent them from achieving a goal. During my years of studying the Medicine Wheel, I’ve learned that those with North Power are consummate quick studies. They are capable of getting to the essence of complex tasks more quickly than others. They are also comfortable shouldering a lot of work, and are able to get it all done, because they take efficient paths to completion and start prioritizing activities right away. Their minds work quickly and they act quickly. In terms of list making, those with West power create lists to keep organized, while those with North Power create lists to watch items get crossed off.
Another wonderful gift of the North Way is to “speak the unspeakable”. While others are holding back their opinions in a group, team or task force, worried about getting it right or not hurting the feelings of others, those with strong North Power are quick to speak up and take a controversial stand. I can not tell you how many times I have heard those with North power say things such as, “Let’s face it, we don’t have the money or talent we need to do this project, so let’s cut our losses and move on.” After it was said, you could hear others muttering under their breaths, “I’m so glad she said that, I was thinking it but didn’t want to say it.”
Like all of the other directions on the wheel, the North’s greatest strengths (being a quick study, prioritizing tasks quickly, being willing to take risks and put a stake in the ground on tough issues) can easily become its greatest weakness. Under stress, they can become incredibly impatient and brusque. Because the North in us does not “suffer fools” easily, it can come off as harsh, aggressive, close-minded and self-serving. Only in retrospect when feedback from a trusted colleague, they will they say things like “Oh, that was a person I talked over in that meeting,” or, “You mean to tell me, I alienated five people with that single comment?” “Ugh, why is everyone so sensitive around here? Don’t they know that what I said was about the task and it wasn’t personal? You know, if it wasn’t for people, this could actually be a great place to work!”
In short, when the North is out of balance, it can come off as a buffalo in a china shop, or, as one colleague shared with me, “a buffalo that brings and breaks its own china shop wherever it goes”.
Finally, an out-of-balance North Buffalo will often take on too much leadership, control and credit for a project. It is not unlikely for the North in us to say, “By the time I explain it, I can just do it myself!” Or, “If I want to see this done right, I should probably just do it myself.” This failure to distribute meaningful leadership responsibilities to others means that when a leader with too much North power leaves an organization, leadership gaps are so significant that the organization’s future is threatened.
We have now made our way full-circle around the Wheel. Now that we have done so, I want to reiterate a comment I made in my first entry on this subject: “We all have all four parts within us.” Some spots are active and fully awakened, while others are asleep and need to be awakened. Also, it’s important to understand that although we may have highly developed strength in a particular direction on the Medicine Wheel, it doesn’t automatically mean we have the place of excess or weakness in that place of power. Remember, it is usually the lack of balance around the wheel or stress that moves us to old, familiar places. Next time, we will pull everything together and will talk about how to map the Medicine Wheel onto a project management model. Stay tuned! Meanwhile, here is the full wheel with all of its strengths (value) and excesses.
For previous posts to learn about the other four places of power on the wheel, feel free to click on the following links:
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