Leadership Wisdom

Living in the midst of uncertainty

There are a few people I turn to when I want insight into the question, how should I center myself in the midst of the uncertainty and chaos that surrounds us daily?  I read what Parker Palmer is thinking about on his blog at the Center for Courage and Renewal.  I also consider what Margaret Wheatley has to say about “leading an island of sanity.”  Finally, I turn to poets and religious thinkers grounded in the spiritual world.

As I think about our national leaders who struggle speaking respectfully to one another, attacking one another, ‘demonizing the other,’ and unable to work on behalf of the very people that elected them to office, I reflect on this quote from one of Parker Palmer’s books, Healing the Heart of Democracy: The Courage to Create A Politics Worthy of the Human Spirit.

As long as we equate the stranger with the enemy, there can be no civil society, let alone a democracy where much depends on holding the tension of our differences without fearing or demonizing the other.

It is essential in a civil society that we find productive ways to solve problems together.  Whether it is a national healthcare solution, the immigration crisis, climate change, violence against women, poverty, or homelessness, we can only address these complex problems if we work together.  It will require a great deal of maturity to “hold the tension” that exists when we work across differences of values, opinions, and ideas.  Holding the tension means being mature and respectful, patient and thoughtful, and not speaking ill of our neighbors.  Palmer writes:

elected leaders slam into each other…I wonder if walking to work every day might make them better leaders.

I hear him asking our leaders to be more mindful.  Stop the bumper car mentality that only creates uncertainty and chaos in our society.

Margaret Wheatley, in her book Who Do We Choose to Be: Facing Reality Claiming Leadership Restoring Sanity, explores the question, what does it mean to practice sane leadership?  She looks at the question through a philosophical, religious, political, and scientific lens.  In her opening, she asks us to think about a new way of leading that will bring nobility back to the profession.  Then she shares an inspiring quote from a Buddhist teacher, Chogyam Trungpa.

We cannot change the way the world is, but by opening to the world as it is we may discover that gentleness, decency and bravery are available, not only to us, but to all human beings.

I find these words to resonate with how Parker Palmer sees the world and sees the calling of being a leader.

Wheatley believes we can learn to lead an island of sanity and protect ourselves from the ‘wild irrationality raging about us.’  She asks the reader to explore two questions.

  1. Recall a leader that you most admired, those you were happy to serve.  What were their behaviors?  How did you feel working for them?
  2. Recall those moments when you were proud of the leadership you provided your organization, family, friends or community. What did you do?  How did you behave toward others?

Answering these questions will shed some light on what it takes to lead with your heart.  Our personal and professional growth are dependent upon reflecting and understanding answers to these questions.  You may have come across other questions that are equally important to reflect on.  Please share them with me.

Finally, two pieces from a poet/teacher and a spiritual healer.  Mark Nepo, in The Book of Awakening, writes daily meditations.  On page 101, he explores the meaning of true listening for March 21.  He writes:

Listening arises from a deeper place, and it seems we can only hear the living to the extent that we have truly lived, only understand pain and joy to the extent that we have allowed ourselves to be touched by life.  If the ear grows from the heart like a petal, then as roots absorb rain and sun until a simple flower opens, the heart must absorb both tears and joy in order to sprout an ear that can truly hear.

Our leaders are not listening to our voices.  Most voices cry out for harmony.  Yet our leaders slam into each other.  Speak ill of one another.  They are not leaders in the spirit of Parker Palmer, Margaret Wheatley or Mark Nepo.  They are failing us on both sides of the aisle.

In conclusion, I reference the words of Lao Tzu, a Chinese philosopher.


I have just three things to teach:

simplicity, patience, compassion.

These are your greatest treasures.

Simple in actions and thoughts, you return to the source of being.

Patient with both friends and enemies,

you accord with the way things are.

Compassionate towards yourself,

you reconcile all beings in the world.

We have our work cut out for us if we are to live and lead from our hearts in this world of uncertainty.  I believe we can because there are numerous examples of courageous people doing just that.  I aspire to be one of them.

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