Strategy or Fluency

September 10, 2009 5 Comments

One of my favorite summer reads was the book Leading from Within, which is co-edited by Sam Intrator and Megan Scribner, both of whom have connections to Parker Palmer’s Center for Courage and Renewal.  The book is a collection of favorite poems selected by a diverse group of leaders in business, medicine, education, social services, politics, and religion.  Each poem was chosen because it provides guidance and support for these individuals’ work and lives, and each is accompanied on the left facing page by a short commentary that sheds light on the poem’s significance.

One of the contributors is Carla M. Dahl, a professor and dean at the Center for Spiritual and Personal Formation at Bethel Seminary.  For her poem, Dahl selected John O’Donohue’s “Fluent”:

I would love to live                                                                                                                      Like a river flows,                                                                                                                          Carried by the surprise                                                                                                               Of its own unfolding.

In her commentary, Dahl writes about the tension she feels between being part of a strategic, plan-full, mission-driven organization and being someone who longs to lead with more intuition, responding to the opportunities of the moment.  While planning has its benefits, she acknowledges that “no leader can see the end from the beginning.”  What this means is that we can take our best (educated, data-informed) guess and then remain flexible to where the river takes us of its own accord.

As the post-Labor Day schedule picks up momentum and the demands begin to press more palpably, I am grateful to be reminded of the need to hold on to both the goal-oriented and intuitive parts of me.  And along with Dahl, I aim to see the invitations and not simply the demands of leadership, so that I can be present, open, and fundamentally of service.


  • Linda says:

    Yes, Curtis! Let’s bring it all to the work we all face! Present, open, and of service. Beautifully said!!!

  • Food for thought as we float down stream: Every flowing ‘river’, without carefully planned preventions, is a potential raging flood. And let us not forget who must clean up the mess the flood leaves behind.

  • Curtis says:

    Good point, Charlie. It’s not planning OR spontaneity, right? The classic BOTH/AND . . . where is Mr. Ryan when we need him? I do think there is a bigger question of agility here. Keeps coming up in many contexts. Clearly the world we live in is going to require many of us to be more nimble.

  • Sara says:

    I’m wondering if intention at the heart of this…so that as things unfold and we aim to recognize and respond to the invitations, we do so intentionally and with full clarity regarding our purpose. It’s a delicate balance for sure.

  • Curtis says:

    I like that, Sara. I would say intention and attention.

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