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Wheatley: Leading an Island of Sanity

From: Wheatley, Margaret J.. Who Do We Choose To Be?: Facing Reality, Claiming Leadership, Restoring Sanity. Berrett-Koehler Publishers. Kindle Edition.

Leading an Island of Sanity.

What does it take to lead an island of sanity? What does the practice of sane leadership look like? Is it possible to create protection from the wild irrationality raging about us?

This is where it gets simple.

Even though there is now a vast body of work on leadership, I find it far more enlightening to consult our personal histories. All of us have had multiple experiences with good and bad leaders, from kids working in fast-food franchises to retirees with more than forty years of work history. When asked (which I’ve done thousands of times), “What is good leadership?” people in all places, of all ages, come up with the same descriptors. I feel confident that there is only one style, type, form of leadership that people respond well to. And they respond because it honors and supports them to be fully human. Just like we respond.

To determine your own definition of good leadership, think about your history:

  1. Recall those leaders you’ve most admired, those you were happy to serve under. What were their behaviors? How did you feel working for them? What kind of worker were you, including the quality of what you produced? How do you feel about them now?
  2. Recall your own moments when you were proud of the leadership (either formal or informal) you provided to your organization, family, friends, community. What did you do? How did you behave toward others? What were the results of your leadership? Are you still in a relationship with any of these people?

Answer these questions and you’ll know how to be a good leader on your island. (Please don’t bring in images of reality TV shows when I use this term.) And if you’re frustrated that I haven’t specified the traits of good leaders that I find common among all human beings, may I refer you to my other books?

I’m approaching this lightheartedly because a core survival skill in difficult situations is to maintain a sense of humor. Even with the intensity of feelings that flood over us as we contemplate collapse, it’s essential that we not take everything so seriously.

The Hopi prophecy for these times teaches, “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 comes to a halt.”

Yes, these are terrifying times if we open our eyes. Yes, our heart aches for all the needless suffering and destruction. And yes, maintaining a sense of humor gives us the capacity to observe the suffering and failures with enough distance that we can see it all more clearly. Irony and humor (not sarcasm) are critical skills to wise discernment. In order to laugh, we have to take in a lot of information and see things from a different perspective. Sarcasm, on the other hand, is just observing from a distance through the eyes of cynicism. It does not connect us in any way. It does not enable action or relationship. And it is growing exponentially in this culture. Even my very young grandchildren are skilled at sarcasm.

I should like to think that prehistoric man’s first invention, the first condition for his survival, was a sense of humor. Andre Leroi-Gourhan, paleoanthropologist