Friday, September 11, 2009

Planning on uncertainty

"Leadership through command and control is doomed to fail. No one can create sufficient stability and equilibrium for people to feel secure and safe. Instead, as leaders we must help people move into a relationship with uncertainty and chaos. Spiritual teachers have been doing this for millennia. Therefore, I believe that the times have led leaders to a spiritual threshold. We must enter the domain of spiritual traditions if we are to succeed as good leaders in these difficult times."
Margaret Wheatley, Finding Our Way

I was recently at Faith Mennonite Church when a protester burst into the sanctuary as a woman was preaching and said, "This is an abomination!" The protester believed that women should not be ministers. He aggressively came into the sanctuary two different times, seeking to make his voice heard and to disrupt the service. Both times he came in, a group of people in the sanctuary gently but firmly surrounded him, making sure no one was hurt and that the service could continue. Some people in the congregation moved close to him and prayed. Others talked with this man before, during, and after the service. From an outside perspective, it looked like the congregation had done planning and training in how to handle disruptions during a worship service, so that the response was both firm and nonviolent.

But this congregation had not anticipated or planned for disruptions like this. The response from the congregation grew out of shared values and trusting relationships among the congregation, but not a pre-meditated plan. The congregation strongly values nonviolence, relationship-building, and listening. During this tense situation, a natural expression of these values happened. I believe that the congregation was prepared for this type of response because of the rituals, community building, and mentoring they did with each other before that day.

In the past year, I have facilitated strategic planning with several organizations. In doing this planning, I want to both be precise in the plans we make, and also recognize that the best expressions of the organizations might arise spontaneously and be impossible to plan for. And many times, committing to intellectual plans and strategies are not enough to make things happen. A recent study showed that when doctors tell heart patients they will die if they don't change their habits, only one in seven will be able to follow through successfully. (From the book, Immunity to Change)

At a strategic planning retreat I facilitated this summer, one of the participants said that the mission and goals of the group seemed to "organically arise" out of the experiences and input from several groups. I think that much of the best planning does naturally arise out of our experience--and sometimes the planning for something comes just as we are doing it, and not before. But before the crisis or opportunity arises, we can build the common purpose and values of groups we are a part of--and we can be open to the opportunities and relationships that arise.

I started this post with a quote from Margaret Wheatley. I think that she is right--both about the need to make friends with uncertainty and also about the resources we can draw from spiritual traditions as we learn to do that. I know that it is true for me. I often want to cling to predictability and control, and I need spiritual practices to help me relax and listen to what is arising. I recently heard a quote from Rainer Maria Rilke (on a friend's outgoing voice-mail). I think the Rilke quote also points toward the essence of this trusting:

"May what I do flow from me like a river, no forcing and no holding back, the way it is with children."


Anonymous said...

Wow! How lovely. I agree with your sense of things and marvel at your skill in connecting ideas.

Thanks for sharing your gift as a communicator.

Hope you are well and our paths cross before the snow falls.

Weren't you going to share your reflection on the year... at an event... maybe I missed it.

Michael Bischoff said...

Hi Anonymous,

I tried to guess who you were by your tone of typing, but I didn't come up with a guess.

You aren't too late! The event to share my reflections is going to be on September 30, 6:30 - 8:30 pm at Minneapolis Friends Meeting (4401 York Ave. So., Mpls).