Among all the noise and rhetoric, listen to this voice – she has something of true value to share!

 “Among all the noise and rhetoric, listen to this voice – she has something of true value to share!” – Leadership 

Every new day seems to be like a never-ending rollercoaster at present. And if, like me, you are finding it hard to focus on your work and make the difference you want to, my hope is that you will find some insights and possibly inspiration in my blog below! It’s not been an easy one to write as I’ve continued to struggle with not just the everyday challenges this period is presenting but increasingly to make sense of what’s going on around us and how I can continue to best serve.

Originally, in deciding to float the idea with The Change Leaders – a community of practice I am fortunate to be part of – for this blog as part of a series focused on “lesser heard and more diverse” range of voices, I was hoping that we could shine a light on voices that have something critical to say in these times but who may be drowned out by the noise. In a world where many of us feel the public spaces – physical and virtual – are being dominated by an increasingly narrow group of voices!

With this in mind, I decided to write about Margaret Wheatley (more frequently known as Meg) and her work encapsulated in her book Who do we choose to be?  And why Meg’s voice is critical at this point in time.

Her book starts with her desire to challenge us “To be leaders for this time as things fall apart, to reclaim leadership as a noble profession that creates possibility and humanness in the midst of increasing fear and turmoil…. to use whatever power and influence you have to create Islands of Sanity that evoke and rely on our best human qualities to create, produce and persevere? … Islands of Sanity where good work still gets done and where people enjoy healthy relationships in the midst of chaotic conditions, fierce opposition, heart-breaking defeats, lack of support, isolation, loneliness, and slander.”

Meg goes on to explore in her work where we are and how we got here, using the patterns of complex civilisations to deepen historical awareness then reflect on what she’s learnt from working with leaders who did not lose their way but persevered in doing the best that was possible in difficult circumstances.

The three key questions she uses in her exploration and urges us to consider are:

1)     Facing Reality: Where are we and how did we get here?

2)     Claiming Leadership: What is the role of leaders now?

3)     Restoring Sanity: How do we create Islands of Sanity that sustain our best human qualities?

Concluding with the premise that qualities of compassion, discernment and presence are essential leadership skills in these days. They form the basis for Meg’s ongoing work training leaders in the skills of Warriors for the Human Spirit.

My own story has been interlinked with Meg’s work for a number of years. My first encounter with her was at an event organised by TCL (my community of practice) in Paris some 8 years ago when she was evolving her thinking on these concepts and I was fascinated by it but not ready to integrate and act. Three years ago, I was really struggling professionally in my global role within a large organisation. I spent a week with Meg at Schumacher College in Devon exploring in detail the foundations of her work and it was transformational. I left knowing that the work I was going to do was going to change dramatically in the coming years and beyond.

In my own work, Islands of Sanity have increasingly gained in importance as the working world becomes ever more challenging to navigate and thrive in. I’ve increasingly relied on my own Islands of Sanity. For me, my community of practice is the place where I regroup, connect, am challenged and supported, learn and refuel. It gives me the courage and sustenance I need to focus on the creativity, energy and perseverance required to do the work that I feel called to do through my coaching and change practice. When working with my clients, I encourage them to reflect and act upon this, if I’m honest, with varying degrees of success.

As for the qualities of compassion, discernment and presence in leadership – these are in increasingly short supply in leaders. Indeed, the old model of command and control leadership is fighting hard and winning in many ways. And yet, we see organisations and institutions whose leaders display true compassion (beyond empathy) and presence to the needs of others whilst facing reality faring far better in the current climate – delivering consistently more equitable and impactful outcomes*. But it’s hard!

The need for leaders across societies, especially at the grass roots, embodying these traits now grows exponentially – it’s mission critical.  We are called upon by Meg: “Now it’s up to us not as global leaders but as local leaders. We can lead people to create positive changes locally that make life easier and more sustainable, that create possibility in the midst of global decline. Let us use whatever power and influence we have, working with whatever resources are already available, mobilizing the people who are with us to work from what they are about… Facing reality is an empowering act – it can liberate our mind and heart to discern how best to use our power and influence in service for this time.”

I continue to work on my own way to serve my community. I see it as a continuous work in progress. So, potentially this is the true gift Meg’s work offers us – to accept the context we find ourselves in, to face it with fortitude and not despondence, to commit to and take action to serve whatever the difficulties and ultimately not to attach ourselves too much to our ego through the desire for “successful” outcomes – that the work we do is because it is needed and the value in that is enough.

This is why, I truly believe that Meg is a voice which needs to be heard in all the noise and rhetoric of current world so more of us can step up to serve in these difficult times of which I think it’s fair to say there will be many more to come.

To learn more about Meg’s work and activism, check out Ask yourself, how might you want to integrate these concepts and approach into your work and leadership?

*This is evidenced not least by the countries who have fared better in the early days of responding to Covid-19 where leadership demonstrated many of these traits consistently.

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