In this series on evocative leadership we have picked up wisdom from many different sources, including quite a few religious and philosophical sources. Jesus, Zen, and Yoga have all made the list. With today’s Provision we turn to a little more contemporary and yet allegedly ancient source of wisdom: Yoda • that tiny green character known as a “Jedi Master” in the Star Wars universe. Why Yoda? Perhaps it’s in honor of the final flight of NASA’s space shuttle program or perhaps it’s because there’s not another word in the English language that starts with the letter “y” that packs as much of a punch when it comes to leadership. Or perhaps it’s just because I like the little guy. If you don’t mind a little Yoda speak, then this Provision is for you.
At long last, I get to sit in the comfort of my own home, watching the birds at the bird feeders as the sun slowly sets in the west, leisurely writing a Provision on a Saturday afternoon. For all the goodness of flying around the globe, presenting and connecting with people who are interested in our work with the Center for School Transformation, Glinda, the Good Witch of the South, and Dorothy, that lost little girl from Kansas, sure had it right in the Wizard of Oz: “there’s no place like home, there’s no place like home.” It just doesn’t get any better than this.
Especially when I stumble upon a topic that has so much to teach me. People often express curiosity and sometimes amazement at how I come up with something to write about each week. My answer is always the same: the topics find me. As in the writing of the Provisions so it is with the topics: I simply channel whatever energy and wisdom comes my way. I don’t come up with this on my own; I serve more as a reporter on what the universe is doing with me. And the universe is always stirring the pot. We just have to pay attention and listen to what it has to say.
Long runs are one of my favorite times to listen. When I run outside, which is most of the time, I hardly ever listen to music and I never listen to audio books. I don’t want to hear what someone else has to say, I want to hear what the universe has to say through my own eyes, ears, nose, brain, feet, hands, and heart. The rhythmic pattern of running and walking, breathing fast and breathing slow, across many miles and many hours never fails to shake a few things loose. And today was no exception.
For one, I came back with some new language around the presentation we are giving in Florida on Wednesday on “Teacher Valuation: Better Conversations for Better Schools.” The difference between “Evaluation” and “Valuation” is only one letter, but that small change makes a huge difference. If you want to hear how that plays out in schools, sifting from measuring value to appreciating value, I encourage you to sign up for the pay-per-view webcasts.
In addition, I came back all excited about what I would learn from writing today’s Provision. I already knew that I was going to focus on what Yoda, that tiny green character known as a “Jedi Master” in the Star Wars universe, had to say about leadership. My current pattern of writing three Provisions for each letter of the alphabet kind of pushed Yoda upon me. I literally went through the dictionary to look at all the “y” words, and nothing else (after Yes and Yoga) struck my fancy. But Yoda, now’s there’s a character who had something to say.
Or at least that’s how I remembered the guy. Although I have seen all six of the Star Wars movies, I have not watched any of them in a very long time. And I have never looked at the collected wisdom of Yoda, it’s central, guru-like figure. Given that he is cast as an incredibly powerful figure, leading an order of warrior monks known as the Jedi Knights, one might think that Yoda’s short, pithy remarks (in the classic object-subject-verb word order of Yoga speak) would hold more than just a few gems. So I came back rather jazzed about what I might learn today, and Yoda did not disappoint.
Here, then, are some of my favorite sayings (in small caps) followed by some reflections on what his sayings have to do with leadership. The journey hope I you enjoy! ☺
“Size matters not. Look at me. Judge me by my size, do you? Hmm? Hmm. And well you should not. For my ally is the Force, and a powerful ally it is. Life creates it, makes it grow. Its energy surrounds us and binds us. Luminous beings we are, not this crude matter. You must feel the Force around you; here, between you, me, the tree, the rock, everywhere, yes. Even between the land and the ship.”
“Humility endless is.”
I wish every leader had a humble sense of his or her own importance in the grand scheme of things. We do not lead on the strength of our own ambition, ego, size, power, or ability. We lead only in so far as we are aware of and reflect a sense of purpose that enhances life and is larger than ourselves. Too often leaders become impressed with ourselves and carry ourselves with a sense of entitlement, as though we were the ones in charge. Great leaders do not go there. We know that we are but stewards of a force that is larger than ourselves. It is only from that consciousness and stance that we can lead.
Yoda’s words remind me of the words in Marianne Williamson’s famous 1992 book, A Return to Love: “Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light not our darkness that most frightens us. We ask ourselves, who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented and fabulous? Actually, who are you not to be? You are a child of God.” We can be that way, playing large to serve the world, only when we understand the factors at work behind our abilities. That is the place from which true greatness always comes.
“Ready are you? What know you of ready? For eight hundred years have I trained Jedi. My own counsel will I keep on who is to be trained. A Jedi must have the deepest commitment, the most serious mind. This one a long time have I watched. All his life has he looked away… to the future, to the horizon. Never his mind on where he was. Hmm? What he was doing. Hmph. Adventure. Heh. Excitement. Heh. A Jedi craves not these things. You are reckless.”
“Looking for someone? Found someone you have I would say, mm?”
These sayings point to a Provision I will be writing next week: Mindfulness Matters! When it comes to leadership, unless we have trained ourselves to be in the present moment with full awareness, without judgment, and with an openness to possibility, we will be reckless leaders indeed. By not paying attention to what is called for now, by reacting rather than responding, and by focusing on what we want in the future rather than on what the present wants from us now, we will often miss opportunities and alienate the very people who are counting on us to bring them together and get things done.
Luke: “I can’t believe it.” Yoda: “That is why you fail.”
“So certain are you. Always with you it cannot be done. Hear you nothing that I say?
This exchange between Yoda and his young apprentice (or “Padawan”), Luke Skywalker, brings to mind that famous quip from Henry Ford: “Whether you think you can or think you can’t, you’re right.” Great leaders are possibility thinkers. We are not attached to any particular outcome, but we are totally confident that something wonderful will come from our efforts. Without self-efficacy, not much ever gets done.
“Not if anything to say about it I have”
When was the last time that you heard a leader say something like that?! I wish more leaders would hold off on saying things until we had something to say. In coaching, silence is often the most evocative of all techniques. Don’t say anything at all. Just listen. Often, the people we work with, coach, and lead will surprise us with their wisdom. More than once over the years I have inadvertently been on mute while listening, on the phone, to a client. Speaking up at an appropriate moment or pause meant that my client didn’t hear what I had to say. As a result, they started talking again • only to come up with something brilliant that might have never come out if my words had been heard.
“Use your feelings and find him you will.”
“Clear, your mind must be if you are to discover the real villains behind the plot.”
The notion of trusting one’s intuition, inklings, feelings, and inner mind is a recurrent theme in the Star Wars movies. All great leaders have some sense of this, but Yoda takes it one step beyond just going with our gut. “Luke, use the Force,” is an encouragement to not only look beyond the technology and to trust his gut; it is also an encouragement to listen to what the universe may be wanting him to see and do in service of a higher calling and purpose. The notion that that purpose can expand our awareness and guide our actions is a radical notion, but it is the key to great leadership.
Great leaders have an inner knowing as to what must be done, not because it is what we want, but because it is simply the right thing to do. It is what the universe is calling for. Move this way rather than that, say yes rather than no (or vice-versa), confront honestly or express empathy, hold back or push ahead • such decisions are the stuff of leadership, and great leaders turn turn that stuff into matters of principle.
“Think you the relationship between Master and Padawan is only to help them? Oh, this is what we let them believe, yes! But when the day comes that even old Yoda does not learn something from his students-then truly, he shall be a teacher no more.”
“Meditate on this, I will.”
One of the most powerful truths of leadership can be expressed in five words: great leaders are learning leaders. When leaders think we have all the answers, when we think that we have everything to teach and nothing to learn, when we stop meditating deeply on what is being said and done, then we stop being leaders at all. We become tyrants or dictators. And that is no way to lead. In order to lead a people to greatness, great leaders must be great. And that starts with the recognition that we have so much to learn. Never the journey ends.
“Fear is the path to the dark side. Fear leads to anger. Anger leads to hate. Hate leads to suffering.”
“When you look at the dark side, careful you must be … for the dark side looks back.”
“Careful you must be when sensing the future. The fear of loss is a path to the dark side. Train yourself to let go of everything you fear to lose.”
“Yes, a Jedi’s strength flows from the Force. But beware of the dark side. Anger, fear, aggression; the dark side are they. Easily they flow, quick to join you in a fight. If once you start down the dark path, forever will it dominate your destiny, consume you it will.”
Luke: “What’s in there?” Yoda: “Only what you take with you.”
“Named must your fear be before banish it you can.”
If there is an overarching theme that Yoda returns to throughout the various movies it has to do with fear: fear of loss, pain, failure, and death. The mechanism of action as to how fear destroys great leadership has to do with attachment. The more attached we become to our goals and strategies, to doing things our way, the more demanding, controlling, and ultimately unsuccessful we become as leaders.
Regardless of whether or not you agree with the notion that the spiritual realm can be divided between dark and light sides, it is nevertheless clear that fear contributes mightily to much that is stressful and difficult in the world. Fight and flight responses both flow from fear; one lashes out, because we think we can win, while the other runs away, because we think we will lose. Neither alternative bespeaks of great leadership.
So what’s a leader to do? Name the fear to banish the fear. I love that bit of wisdom. What need are you most concerned about? By connecting with the core, underlying value that is being stimulated in the form of fear, we can begin to get a grip on our presence and power. Recovering our balance, we can banish fear and return to a posture of being open to possibility.
“Do or do not. There is no try.”
“To be Jedi is to face the truth, and choose. Give off light, or darkness, Padawan. Be a candle, or the night, Padawan: but choose!”
Lest anyone think that great leaders are perfect, Yoda throws out one last perspective for us to think about, reflect on, and learn from. Great leaders choose. We don’t try; we do. Of course Yoda wants leaders to choose life and do life-affirming things. Of course he wants leaders to avoid self-serving and evil contrivances that deprive people of goodness and well-being. Violence, in Yoda’s world, is purely for self-defense and the protection of others. It is never for aggression.
But in the end, great leaders choose; that’s what makes leaders great, or terrible, as the case may be. We don’t talk about trying to do things. We do things. The Christian book of Revelation captured the same sentiment in the Spirit’s counsel to the church in Laodicea: “Because you are lukewarm • neither hot nor cold • I will spit you out of my mouth” (3:16). Yoda clearly bids leaders to choose and do life, but above all he wants us to choose and do.
Coaching Inquiries: What kind of leader are you? Life-enhancing or life-destroying? Overly-controlling or overly-relaxed? Distracted-by-tomorrow or aware-of-the-present? Impressed-with-yourself or attentive-to-others? How can you be a great leader who makes things better rather than worse? Who could coach you to become an even greater leader than you are right now?
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LifeTrek Readers’ Forum (selected feedback from the past week)
Editor’s Note: The LifeTrek Readers’ Forum contains selections from the comments and materials sent in each week by the readers of LifeTrek Provisions. They do not necessarily reflect the perspective of LifeTrek Coaching International. To submit your comment, use our Feedback Formor Email Bob.
As always, your Provision, Yoga Matters, has inspired me – this time to step back and practice more Yoga. Good luck to your daughter who sounds like she has a great perspective on work/life balance.
Yes, yes, yes! I need to get back to my yoga!!!! Thank you Bob. ☺
May you be filled with goodness, peace, and joy.
Bob Tschannen-Moran, MCC, BCC
President, LifeTrek Coaching International, www.LifeTrekCoaching.com
CEO & Co-Founder, Center for School Transformation, www.SchoolTransformation.com
Immediate Past President, International Association of Coaching, www.CertifiedCoach.org
Author, Evocative Coaching: Transforming Schools One Conversation at a Time, Online Retailers
Address: 121 Will Scarlet Lane, Williamsburg, VA 23185-5043
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