“As a leader, one must be able to follow what life is calling for, beyond our preference and beyond our plan.” — Kendra Cunov
While it is important to have some kind of plan or direction as a leader, one of the common places I see people get stuck is they imagine they must know everything. Early on in their journey, many teachers & leaders get fixated on thinking that every single step of the journey has to be accounted for, and that there can be no deviation from the path. This kind of pressure can be incredibly stifling to our creativity & our capacity to meet what arises in the moment. Ultimately to reach the vision we intend, we must be able to pivot and respond to unforeseen circumstances with grace. This requires practice in sitting in the discomfort of not knowing.
Walking with the Mystery.
What I’ve been sitting with lately is that one of the most powerful places a leader can come from is the capacity to hold the unknown and walk with grace in the midst of mystery. From the outside, this sometimes looks like being all-knowing. I often have people ask questions like, ‘how did you know to say/ask that?’ or ‘how did you plan everything so perfectly?’ The truth is I often don’t know what I am going to say next, and I rarely have all the steps of a class (let alone a full day) planned out ahead of time. What I have come to rest inside of is my capacity to not know – and be comfortable inside of not knowing. To hold the wild vastness of the unknown. This is the space of my most intuitive & creative self.
The Stifling Pressure of Chronic Planning
Many years ago, when I was first teaching others how to facilitate a process called Circling, I was sitting with two men, and I asked one of them a question that took him on a powerful journey. At the end of the session, when we were deconstructing the process, they asked how I knew to ask the question, and I told them that I didn’t. The question arose from the mystery.
Now, there have been plenty of instances where I’ve asked a question that didn’t have such a powerful impact on the person, or didn’t resonate with them at all. And this is actually the most important part: my ability to maintain lightness in those situations — to allow those moments where what I said didn’t resonate to dissolve into the atmosphere, is what enabled this whole process to take place. When I asked the question, I knew that whatever the response to the question would be ok. I am equally ready to follow a line of inquiry, or to let it go completely.
There’s a huge amount of pressure in imagining that, when we lead, we have to know exactly where we are going and every step along the way – or that everything we ask, say or do has to go perfectly, and be deep & life-changing. That pressure, in and off itself, constrains our capacity to meet the moment.
What’s At Risk When We Can’t Meet The Moment?
Some of the most powerful participant experiences came from working with a process or practice that didn’t go the way I planned it. When we plan every second, we become rigid & miss the unforeseen moments that often turn out to be the most powerful. So, too, when something begins to go awry (which, so long as you are working with living beings, it will), you will miss the opportunity to pivot towards what is truly needed.
Be Ready to Meet What Arises.
When we maintain our readiness to meet what arises, and we stay in relationship with the unknown, we are more in relationship with the people in front of us as well. This inherently makes us better teachers & leaders. We cannot plan for every thing that might happen & if we try, we are likely to lose touch with what is actually right in front of us. It reminds me of this quote, which I thought was attributed to Gandhi, “There go my people. I must follow them, for I am their leader.” I can only imagine Gandhi had a powerful vision he led from – and, yet, his capacity to lead people was grounded in the fact that he followed them. He was not attempting to make them go where he thought they should go, but instead he saw them as the calling force.
If you find yourself chronically trying to plan for every eventuality as a teacher or leader; to predict everything that might possibly happen – try asking yourself how willing are you to sit with the unknown? What might I need to do to bring myself back into the unknown? And move from that place.
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