Sunday, March 21, 2010

I don't know. I have no answers either.

Sometimes, even if you think otherwise, the best thing that can happen is to have no answers. There's been a lot going on in my little corner of the world. My colleague at work broke her neck in a car accident a week and half ago, and the past week was filled with little dramas about how to continue her classes, or if those classes might be folded into the two remaining teacher's classrooms (mine being one of them.) Lots of assumptions and confusion, as well as a very palpable sense of how old wounds can derail and derange even the most simple conversations.

This morning, we had our monthly zen center board meeting. I arrived kind of tired and feeling unprepared. Due to scheduling, the meeting was only three weeks after our board retreat, which had been a lot of work beforehand, and created more work following. I'm rediscovering how challenging it can be to help navigate a shift in direction for an organization. Even though much of what we're doing now will stay in play and/or be improved upon, our sangha is at a new place in it's life, filled with many interesting directions we could pursue.

In the middle of today's meeting, a board member brought up a question about standing committees, and how the strategic planning work we have been doing fit into, or didn't fit into, those committees and other established organizational channels. This question provoked an interesting set of responses from me. Initially, I just wanted to get finished the committee appointments I felt we needed to do. Then I found myself thinking "I really don't have an answer to how the old fits with the new." Other board members chimed in with more questions, thoughtful remarks, and confusions. And for a few minutes, my mind swam through the mud of "You're not much of a leader, are you!" kind of thoughts. I'm often on top of things, coming prepared with notes, ideas, and something to say. But I had nothing here; I was just as uncertain as the newest of the board members there about how everything was going to work out.

At one point, someone asked me what I thought of was happening, and what we needed to do, and I just threw my hands in the air and said "I don't know. I have no answers either."

For some reason, that opened the door for others to start putting forth ideas, and to make suggestions that they then said they would help implement. It's funny because one of the goals I had had with both the retreat and this meeting today, was to get more active involvement - and that's just what happened. I certainly could have been clearer about a few things going in, and a little more organized, but not knowing and simply stepping back to let others step forward was, it seems, exactly what the situation was calling for. It really wasn't easy because it shook, again, the ideas I had about being an "effective" leader. However, as we finished the meeting, some of the board actually came up to me and told me it was good that I wasn't the "center point," that my relative silence during that half an hour the issues of how to navigate the old and the new came up was helpful.

The thing is, I found that I had to let go of being the leader in that case in order for the group to move through to a place I couldn't have guided us through on my own. It was an unnervingly ungrounded experience, as I moved from listening to confusion to listening again to offering ideas to trying to take notes to just sitting there while my colleagues took up the slack.

I've always viewed leadership as a dynamic, collaborative process that seeks to empower everyone at the table. And yet, when you truly are doing that, embodying that, it often looks nothing like the standard models of leadership out there. I've experienced this in my classroom many times over the years, and yet somehow hadn't quite tapped into that awareness and experience as a board chair until today.


Was Once said...

We often forget that being ok with not knowing is also part of our practice. I had a friend exhibit some sadness spontaneously, and when asked about it, he said it was part of the change he had encountered that day. I gave him a hug, but it did not evolve into any resolution for him, he kind of just shelved it and acted like it did not happen.
I later meditated on his sadness that I could not do anything to help with, knowing there are many instances of suffering, that we are not part of.

Jeanne Desy said...

I used to think "not knowing" was a very wise abstraction, mystical. This reminds me how the real thing is not knowing this step or where it will lead. Letting it lead, maybe.

Nathan said...

Yeah, that experience yesterday certainly was not abstract! :)