Age Old Wisdom On Leadership: The West Way
In my last entry, we made it half way around the Medicine Wheel and revealed the strengths and weaknesses of the South way. A person with South medicine is characterized by his or her deep respect for the individual and an ability to make others feel safe and valued. However, if lacking balance in the other 3 directions, they can too often avoid conflict, enable others who need to take care of themselves and accommodate, rather than lead with independence of thought and action.
Here’s a visual cue to remember the South Way:
Today, we are going to talk about the West Way. The Lakota Sioux call this “The Place That Looks Within”. The time of day is sunset, always a good time to reflect on what has taken place during the day, and the animal totem is the Black or Brown Bear.
The bear represents the West because they are both very goal focused. However, like those with great West Medicine, they are constantly discerning and analyzing with an eye towards perfection. Bears are focused on their goal, which is often food. When they go into the berry bush for their dinner, they will discern and discard the sour berries and pick only the ripe ones. The way of the West is always to “measure twice so you only have to cut once”.
While those with strong East power move quickly and even circularly towards goals, those with strong West power move methodically and in a linear, step-wise fashion towards achieving those same goals.
Furthermore, while those with great East Power may actually speak to what they think they know and fare well in a spontaneous setting, which values in the moment wisdom, a person with West power would be reluctant to speak up at that same meeting without having done some due diligence research.
For West’s, quality is their main priority. West are maximizers at heart, which means they like to improve things. They are uncomfortable with loose ends. They find every typo and seize every opportunity to better something. Which gets us to a well-worn phrase we have used over the last couple of weeks: one’s greatest strength can quickly become one’s greatest weakness.
While others are soaring with ideas and possibilities, the Wests can’t help themselves from thinking about how this might all fail. When others are ready to move forward with a breakthrough strategy, Wests are saying, “I think we need more time to analyze, pilot and evaluate. “
In fact, in an imperfect world, the Wests can be stuck with what we call analysis paralysis: waiting for more proof when time is ticking and opportunity will be missed. In short, the West in us sometimes has to learn how to lead in times of ambiguity and uncertainty without all the data to make the right decision.
There is one more potential pitfall worth mentioning. Those with strong West medicine have the power to remain objective longer than everyone else. This is a great gift, as they are unlikely, for example, to be captured by a trendy idea and more likely to go for sustainable long-term solutions. Yet while they are thinking things through, it is common for their faces and body language to go flat. As they think deeply, they appear cold and insensitive. They are less likely to smile, nod and affirm things right away, and more likely to spend the most time contemplating.
The stereotype of being unreadable combined with a tendency to want to pick out a plan’s flaws can make them tough partners for those who tend to be relationship-based. They may be listening deeper than anyone in the room, but they can be perceived as cold and judgmental.
As you will learn as we continue on the path of the Medicine Wheel, one of the challenges is to not take things personally and learn how to partner across our differences. For now, just take note.
In summary, a person with West power 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 danger is analysis paralysis and being seen as judgmental, too focused on the details and missing the big picture.
Over the next three weeks, we will review one more place on the wheel: the North way. Then, we will pull it all together to help examine our road to better balance. Stay tuned!
To read about the other Medicine wheel positions, 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 email@example.com. You can also visit us on Facebook and Twitter!
Thought Thursday- Seeing Systems Part 3: Leading from the Middle Space
Most of us can think of a time when we’ve been in the middle of something, where we are pretty sure that if we please one party, we will displease another. One of my oldest memories goes back to being a resident assistant at the University of Pittsburgh. Back in the early 1970’s, I was lucky enough to receive room and board and half tuition for taking on this classic middle space role. My job was to provide peer counseling and mentorship while making sure the students on my floor abided by school policies. For those who have navigated this tricky space, you know the dilemma, which can easily be boiled down to a few choice words: build trust or make the bust. I remember sitting in my dorm room, as the parties raged on, and steeling myself for the interventions to come. Do I ignore this party? Do I shut that party down? Do I “write-up” the students for underage drinking or smoking pot and put them through the disciplinary process, at the cost to their academic futures? What position will this put me in when students with real problems on the floor come to me for help? What do I really believe is the right thing to do? Why did I take this job anyway?!
The other day, I was coaching a Department Chair who was in a similar position. She was being asked to implement a curricular change, which came from the central administration, and get the buy-in from her fellow faculty who had no interest in making the change. Worse yet, she too was uncertain about the impact of the recommended changes on student learning. She asked me, “What responsibility do I have to the administration, my fellow faculty and the students?”
This is the dilemma of the Middle Space. Whether you are a coach trying to advocate for a student athlete with the Admissions Office; a Development Director trying to steer a donor’s giving toward a specific school need; a Division Head responding to a parent’s complaint about a faculty member, or a parent trying to mediate a conflict between two children, life is filled with Middle Space dilemmas.
Barry Oshry explains that you know you are in the middle space when you have the experience of being torn. In reference to the analogy of the dog jumping into the lake, Oshry explains that the “reflexive shake” while being torn is an attempt to “slide into the middle” and try to please everyone. He says our most natural response is to run back and forth listening to all the parties and, in the process, we lose ourselves. We come off to others in our organization/system as wishy-washy, a pawn of one side or another and lacking leadership. To avoid losing ourselves, Barry says we need to take a stand. The stand for the middle space is: “Be a middle who maintains your independence of thought and action in stays in service to the system.” This stand leads us to alternative strategies for taking leadership:
1) Take top when you can. This means make a call and be willing to live with the consequences of your actions. In other words, do what’s needed and ask for forgiveness later.
2) Be the bottom when you should. This means you must be a reality check. As ideas from higher ups hit the ground, they sometimes do not have the desired effect. As a middle, when you see that things are not going to work out well, be courageous and push back. Be prepared to share alternative approaches that might fare better.
3) Be the coach, which means coaching either end, or both, so that they can effectively implement their ideas and/or share their feedback in ways that will serve the mission/system well.
4) Be the facilitator- Invite the key parties to a meeting and then design the format and process so that all voices are heard and you leave with shared agreements.
Sometimes we start with one strategy only to find that another is needed. As long as we stay focus on serving the system, rather than specific individuals, the potential for being effective is there. It takes courage and support. Support can often come from fellow middles in the system. Oshry explains that the place of greatest leverage in a system is the Middle Space. After all, they are the folks who are likely to partner with all levels of a system on a regular basis. When middles integrate with their peers regularly (especially without their bosses present) good things tend to happen. Here are agenda items for “Meetings of the Middles”, recommended by Oshry, which are to be used as a guide for meetings:
There is great power and great challenge in the middle space. Remember, slide out first, maintain your independence of thought and action, and lead with intention. Don’t be afraid to develop/refine your skills as a facilitator and a coach.
Tune in next week to learn how to navigate the bottom space!
To learn about the other spaces discussed, click the following links:
Concentric’s 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!