May 9, 2012 by Crane Wood Stookey
“The bad leader is hated and feared.
The good leader is loved and praised.
The great leader, when their work is done,
The people say, “We did this ourselves.”“
I too aspire to be the leader that Lao Tzu describes, to make my leadership not about me. But generous leadership, selfless leadership, is hard to give. I crave love and praise as much as the next guy. And I often find that in the pressure of the moment, in the rush to get things done or under the weight of my responsibility, I fall back into the small, fearful, controlling view of making it all about me. But when I succeed in leading generously, the results always exceed my expectations.
January 24, 2012 by Crane Wood Stookey
We usually accept that teaching others can be a generous thing to do. Being willing to learn from others can also be generous, and a powerful way to engage the best in them.
What do your people know that you don’t? Have you made an effort to find out? Have you created a culture in which people expect to learn from each other up and across the organizational chart as well as down?
It may feel a bit unsettling to encourage people under you to show that they know more than you do, but people are always going to know things you don’t know. None of us are omniscient. An excellent way to engage people is to ask them to teach something, and then make the effort to actually learn it and make use of it.
Curiosity practice – If you are not naturally inclined to seek out what you can learn from your team members, you can start with safe territory. For instance, Read more…
January 16, 2012 by Crane Wood Stookey
I owe my sailing career to Mary Jane. My first job on a sailing ship was as Chief Mate, second in command. First job? And I was Mate? What sense does that make? I think I managed to get hired as Chief Mate because they were short for crew that year and I already had a captain’s license. Never mind that it was the lowest grade motorboat license you could get, limited to lakes and harbours, or that I had not yet used it professionally, or even set foot on a large sailing ship before. I had a license, so I was Chief Mate.
But my ignorance was mortifying, and the captain was appalled that I had been hired. The rest of the crew consisted of two college kids who didn’t know up, an amateur naval historian who thought he knew everything, a revolving lineup of cooks aspiring to be sailors, none of whom lasted very long, and Mary Jane, age 54, who had retired early from her job to fulfill her dream of going to sea. Read more…
November 17, 2011 by Crane Wood Stookey
I once sailed with a young woman named Stephanie on the brigantine CORWITH CRAMER. We sailed from Key West on a two-month voyage to the Dominican Republic, the Cayman Islands and back to Key West, taking a somewhat circuitous route to collect scientific marine samples.
The CRAMER is a modern steel sailing research vessel that takes students to sea for semesters of oceanographic science and seamanship training. We were looking for the extent and condition of Sargasso seaweed (the Sargasso Sea is vanishing), the distribution of plastic debris and so on. We anchored on Silver Bank, seventy miles off the north coast of the Dominican Republic but only sixty feet deep. It’s where the humpback whales come to breed. We lowered a hydrophone over the side with a speaker on deck and listened to the songs of the whales all night. In the morning one of the whales followed close behind the ship for several miles as we sailed away. Read more…
August 9, 2011 by Crane Wood Stookey
I’ve just returned from sailing the South Shore of Nova Scotia for ten days. Of all the teachers that live along the coast, the most profound for me may be the Great Blue Heron. The Heron understands the interplay of stillness and action, and I learn a little more about that every time I see one.
As Alan Watts wrote, “A heron stands stock-still at the edge of a pool, gazing into the water. It does not seem to be looking for fish, and yet the moment a fish moves it dives. [The way to see nature] is simply to observe silently, openly, and without seeking any particular result.”
It’s usually my habit to bring activity and intention with me wherever I go. Even when I’ve anchored for the night in a quiet cove and the stillness of the evening gathers around me, I’m likely to jump down into the cabin to fix this or that, or at least sit planning how I’ll fix those things or make some other improvement on the boat. It takes some discipline to experience the stillness all around, and actually see what’s there. When I manage to do this, I see all kinds of things I was missing, out in the world, and inside my head.
Much of my work is training of various kinds, and whenever possible I make use of boats, the water, and the natural world, which are the most powerful teachers I know. But I have to remember to give those things space to teach. Read more…
July 18, 2011 by Crane Wood Stookey
Leadership is not about the leader. Management is not about the manager. If we think the people we’re working with need to learn a lesson from us, that’s a sure sign that we haven’t yet understood enough about what’s going on with them.
Here’s a cautionary tale.
At a conference on experiential education in the corporate sector, a participant named Sandra asked the working group I was part of if she could present to us one of her intervention techniques that she thought we could all learn something from. We said okay.
Sandra asked us to find something of ours that we cared about; jewelry, journal, photo or the like, though she advised us not to choose something too fragile. Read more…
May 2, 2011 by Crane Wood Stookey
When it comes to engagement, efficiency can be a remarkably poor way of accomplishing things. It may be good for getting specific things done, but for engaging people or offering them ways to grow and learn, efficiency just isn’t very efficient.
On a Nova Scotia Sea School adventure voyage, the food for the teenage crew is kept in watertight plastic buckets. The Sea School’s boat is completely open to the weather, and everything gets wet and stepped on. Read more…
April 24, 2011 by Crane Wood Stookey
Ask any child if they feel deeply engaged by their school, and what do most answer? Ask any child how their school should be run, and they’ll have plenty to say. But there’s one school that actually listens: the Sudbury Valley School, a private school for all grades in Massachusetts that fosters a truly remarkable level of engagement in its students.
Sudbury Valley calls itself a democratic school, which is accurate, because all decisions regarding the day-to-day operation of the school are made by the weekly School Meeting. Every student, in all the grades, and all staff have a vote in the School Meeting. The staff have a lot of influence and are respected as elders, but there are over 200 students and around 11 staff, so the students rule. The School Meeting sets the budget, allocates funds, creates and enforces the rules, and hires and fires the staff. Read more…
March 27, 2011 by Crane Wood Stookey
Wind whistling in the window screens makes me nervous. When I was a child, in summer my windows were left open for some cool air, and when the first thing I heard in the morning was wind whistling in the screens I knew it was windy but I would have to go sailing in my Optimist Pram anyway, to sailing class or to a race, and I would be frightened. Even before I was fully awake, some part of me would hear that sound and I would open my eyes with fear in the pit of my stomach.
My brother David, 11 years older than I, was a hot shot racing sailor in college. One day when I was about 10 it was so windy that, to my great relief, my sailing class was canceled. Then David said, “Get your pram rigged up, you’re going to learn some heavy weather sailing.” “No way”, I said, over and over. But David Read more…
January 6, 2011 by Crane Wood Stookey
Once in a San Francisco subway station I saw a small boy, about five years old, walking through the crowd holding his mother’s hand. The station was busy and loud, and it might have been the boy’s first time in the subway. He didn’t cry or hold back, but he kept repeating in a small voice, “I’m scared.” “I’m scared.” “I’m scared.” His mother said, “Yes sweetheart, I know.” And they disappeared together into the crowd, the little boy repeating, “I’m scared.”
I thought this mother was wonderfully wise. She held her son’s fear with great tenderness, so he could learn to hold it himself. She neither stole away his fear, nor abandoned him to it.
People who claim to be fearless, in the sense of being without fear, are either delusional or they have something missing in their emotional makeup. Courage isn’t being without fear. It’s making friends with fear, going beyond fear. We are afraid, and we proceed on that basis.
This mother trusted her son’s innate courage, and with her tenderness she created a safe place for him to let fear in and walk with it. It’s important that we do not deprive each other of the chance to be brave.
As Tim Merry, one of the practitioners of the Art of Hosting, is fond of saying, “If we’re not uncomfortable we’re probably not learning much.”This story is excerpted from the forthcoming book, Keep Your People in the Boat, to be published in the fall.