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The Courage Way

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The Courage Way
Leading and Living with Integrity

Leadership can be exhausting, lonely, frustrating, disappointing, and downright discouraging. You have to make good decisions while balancing inevitable tensions and knowing when to take risks. You need to keep your values in sight regardless of the pressures around you and stay calm in the storms that arise. At its core, leadership is a daily, ongoing practice, a journey toward becoming your best self and inviting others to do the same. And at the heart of this daily practice is courage.

And that's where The Courage Way comes in. It's a guide to leadership that names and explores this important resource and shows leaders how to access and draw upon courage in all that they do. It has its roots in the work of Parker J. Palmer, who in fifty years of teaching, speaking, and writing has explored the human spirit—what he has called “the inner landscape”—and its role in life and leadership.

Shelly Francis identifies key ingredients needed to cultivate courage, the most fundamental being trust—in ourselves and in each other. She describes the Center for Courage & Renewal's Circle of Trust approach, centered around eleven “touchstones,” poetic and practical operating guidelines for holding the meaningful conversations of inner work and trust building. Each chapter features true stories of how leaders in all kinds of settings have overcome challenges and strengthened their organizations through touchstones like “Extend invitation, not demand,” “No fixing, saving, advising, or correcting,” and “When the going gets rough, turn to wonder.”

This graceful and inspiring book is a guide to courageous leadership and a journey of self-discovery—the two are inextricable. As Francis writes, “Courage is not only in you—it is you. In your moments of courage, that's when you meet your true self.”

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Contents

ePub

Foreword

Parker J. Palmer

Preface: A Word from the Voice Between the Lines

It Takes Courage

Introduction: Why Courage?

1 What Is the Courage Way?

2 The Inner Work of Leadership

3 Have You Met Your True Self?

4 Courage Takes Trust

5 Reflection in Community

6 The Courage to Care for True Self

7 The Courage to Answer Your Calling

8 The Courage to Question and Listen

9 The Courage to Hold Tension in Life-Giving Ways

10 The Courage to Choose Wisely

11 The Courage to Connect and Trust in Each Other

12 The Courage to Stay or to Leave

Notes

Quote Sources

Recommended Reading

Books by the Center for Courage & Renewal

Books by Parker J. Palmer

Gratitudes

Index

About the Center for Courage & Renewal

About the Coauthor

 

Introduction: Why Courage?

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To live into the future means to leap into the unknown, and this requires a degree of courage for which there is no immediate precedent and which few people realize.

—Rollo May

Sigrid Wright didn’t put on her seatbelt because she was moving her car only a short distance. It was December nineteenth, and she had parked her car next to the office to unload supplies for the company holiday party. The Community Environmental Council’s office was on an old dairy farm and sat on a point on the Santa Barbara mesa, overlooking the valley.

It was an unusually warm and bright sunny day, even for California, and Sigrid was thinking about the press conference she was hosting that morning. As she was backing down the narrow winding driveway, her car got stuck on a bush. What happened next isn’t entirely clear. She pumped the gas pedal a couple of times to get unstuck, and the car suddenly popped off the bushes and spun into a backward fishtail at a high speed over the cliff.

Sigrid’s car flipped over dense chaparral and poison oak, rolling 120 feet until it landed upside down in a tree. It was the only tree on the hillside big enough to have stopped the car from tumbling another hundred feet. She was stunned, still alert in a pile of glass and blood on the inside roof of her car. She honked to alert her coworkers, hoping someone would hear and call 911. “Through courage, I guess, and probably grace too, I managed to stay conscious despite the severe head trauma.”

 

1 What Is the Courage Way?

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Our complicity in world making is a source of awesome and sometimes painful responsibility—and a source of profound hope for change. It is the ground of our common call to leadership, the truth that makes leaders of us all.

—Parker J. Palmer

Most people would agree that leadership is something we need more of, but there’s little agreement about exactly what good leadership means, except that we don’t want more of the traditionally hierarchical and authoritarian style. Search the Internet with the keywords good leadership and you’ll find countless books and articles with lists of the top skills and traits of a good leader. You’ll also find all kinds of programs and coaches and organizations claiming to offer the secrets to leading well, as if there were a shortcut.

Most of us know “good” leadership when we see it or experience it; we put labels on it, like authentic, transformational, trustworthy, successful, courageous. Look further. Good leadership is about making good decisions by balancing inevitable tensions and knowing when to take risks. Leadership is keeping your values in sight regardless of the pressures around you, and staying calm in the storms that arise. Leadership is listening well and inviting opinions and answers from others. Leadership is inspiring others with your vision, influencing them with the power of your presence. Leadership encourages others to step into their leadership, too.

 

2 The Inner Work of Leadership

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The salvation of this human world lies nowhere else than in the human heart, in the human power to reflect, in human modesty, and in human responsibility.

—Václav Havel

Ever since he was a little kid, Patrick Herson thought he would become a doctor. His father often told stories of the small-town general practitioners who delivered Patrick and his sisters. “I do have a sense of calling,” Patrick told me, “but it was more about hero worship of the docs who took care of us. Becoming a doctor felt like something natural to do.” He happily practiced medicine for years, delivering more than five hundred babies himself. He also took on added leadership roles. As time went on, he became frustrated trying to do both—and do both well. Eventually Patrick realized he could have a greater impact on patients’ health by leading the good work of others rather than by caring for patients directly. He became a medical director overseeing six hundred providers in Minnesota, where he found himself guiding and, as he says, “occasionally dragging” his medical group through a tumultuous period of change.

 

3 Have You Met Your True Self?

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There is that in me—I do not know what it is—but I know it is in me.

—Walt Whitman, “Song of Myself”

Ed France still remembers the moment that sparked his passion for the work he does today. He was a young teen, visiting his grandparents who lived in a tiny Mississippi town where the commercial stretch of Main Street was abandoned and insects were louder than traffic noise.

Ed recalls one day when he was tidying up his grandfather’s woodshop, a little shed adjacent to the house. It held tools, scrap wood, hardware—seemingly all anyone would need to fix up a house or rebuild almost anything. His granddad had opened it as a retirement business called Dixie Do-Dads, but it was shuttered because the more he aged, the less he was able to work.

“It was a good old tool shop. I remember thinking about how much of a waste it was; all these tools were just kind of sitting there. While this shop sat locked up, neighbors literally a stone’s throw away lived in dilapidated structures.

 

4 Courage Takes Trust

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As we start to really get to know others, as we begin to listen to each other’s stories, things begin to change. We begin the movement from exclusion to inclusion, from fear to trust, from closedness to openness, from judgment and prejudice to forgiveness and understanding. It is a movement of the heart.

—Jean Vanier

A physician named Lynne Fiscus was offered a once- in-a-generation opportunity to lead the endeavor to build a new clinic that would consolidate more than thirty individual clinic locations into a single space. She knew the project would be challenging. Although the new building was designed for a more modern and flexible practice, having to build it during the recession meant more clinics in fewer rooms. It would also mean being open longer hours for better patient access. Nobody had a choice about moving. Clinicians and staff were angry, complaining, “Here I am in the academic world where I’m expected to teach and do research and do clinic. Now you’re telling me that sometimes I have to have clinic ’til seven o’clock at night!”

 

5 Reflection in Community

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Our lives as leaders both demand and deserve reflection. They demand reflection because we must know what is in our hearts, lest our leadership do more harm than good. They deserve reflection because it is often challenging to sustain the heart to lead.

—Parker J. Palmer

A speech pathologist named Rosalie “Rosie” Martin can help adults who’ve never been able to read because she can break the task down into its tiniest components. That allows the learner to be successful at every point of the process. Rosie explained: “I say the word ‘spoon,’ and it’s just this little collection of sounds: s-p-oo-n. Four sounds, five letters but four sounds. That little sound pattern is an auditory symbol that represents that thing. It’s not that thing; it’s the symbol that represents it. All of language is our symbolic system for representing the world.”

“To me it just feels like my daily work, but I have realized that other people find it amazing.” That’s the most true of the people she helps. A prison inmate we’ll call Peter (not his real name) finally learned to read and write at age fifty-one thanks to Rosie. As soon as the inmates are able to write, Rosie asks them to reflect. In his own written words at age fifty-three, Peter describes the difference Rosie made in his life: “It’s funny, before I went in I didn’t know reading and writing, but deep down I must have known how to, but I didn’t know how to start before Rosie showed me I could do it. Rosie somehow opened the door and let the man out who would write. I knew there was somebody at home up there, but he didn’t want to come out to play. Now he’s out and he just can’t stop writing.”1

 

6 The Courage to Care for True Self

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Self-care is never a selfish act—it is simply good stewardship of the only gift I have, the gift I was put on earth to offer others. Anytime we can listen to true self, and give it the care it requires, we do so not only for ourselves but for the many lives we touch.

—Parker J. Palmer

In 2008, Dr. Mukta Panda was chair of the department of medicine at a nine-hundred-bed university hospital. She had just received an award for her dedication to teaching new doctors and her talent for creating innovative and effective residency programs.1 But Mukta wasn’t happy.

“I was questioning my purpose, value, and worth. Two days earlier, I received news about a personal loss of twenty-five years. I was not sure of where I belonged.”

She was struggling personally and professionally. The politics and expectations of the department chair role no longer seemed aligned with Mukta’s values and gifts. When she had first taken on the role eight years earlier, it was with the goals of growing the faculty team, both in size and in their sense of collaboration, and nurturing young doctors. Over time, the role had come to demand more focus on fiscal issues, less on relationship. “And that’s not who I am,” she said.

 

7 The Courage to Answer Your Calling

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Everything that happens to you is your teacher. The secret is to learn to sit at the feet of your own life and be taught by it.

—Polly Berends, writer and sculptor

Jonathan Zeichner grew up in a middle-class community in suburban Connecticut. When he was twelve, his parents divorced, and he moved to a tough inner-city neighborhood in New Haven. At his middle school, it wasn’t uncommon for students to carry guns and knives and to fight with teachers. As the one Jewish kid in a school where only 10 percent of the students were white, Jonathan at times had to protect himself.

“I learned not be a victim or a target. I had to stand up for myself. I had to develop some bravado.”

Jonathan also had to learn how to do more than survive. “I realized early on that certain shared interests transcended class and race. Art. Music. Movies. Pop culture.”

After high school, Jonathan moved to the Bay Area and later to Los Angeles to pursue a career as a writer and director for theater and the screen. With every move, Jonathan faced the challenge of how to provide for his eldest brother, who was suffering from schizophrenia and living between the streets, hospitals, and jail. Jonathan had long been a lifeline for his brother, a go-between with the rest of their family—and sometimes his brother’s anchor to reality itself.

 

8 The Courage to Question and Listen

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A strong community helps people develop a sense of true self, for only in community can the self exercise and fulfill its nature: giving and taking, listening and speaking, being and doing.

—Parker J. Palmer

Greg Sunter is used to being at the front of the room in control of delivering content—first as a classroom teacher, then in school leadership, and now as an education consultant in Brisbane, Australia. Greg no longer thinks of controlling presentations. Rather than showing up as an expert, Greg now asks, “How do I invite other people into a conversation rather than me leading it?” He does it with questions.

This was Greg’s mindset when he was hired to address a toxic staff culture at a primary school. Morale was at an all-time low, and relationships were frayed after a complete turnover in the school’s leadership chain within two years. The administrators told Greg that they didn’t expect him to fix all the problems in a day and a half, but they needed to start the detoxification process.

 

9 The Courage to Hold Tension in Life-Giving Ways

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We engage in creative tension-holding every day in every dimension of our lives, seeking and finding patches of common ground. We do it with our partners, our children, and our friends as we work to keep our relationships healthy and whole. We do it in the workplace—in nonprofits and business and industry—as we come together to solve practical problems.

—Parker J. Palmer

As the only female manager in her department of a metropolitan county government, Jill Boone was in charge of janitorial, landscaping, and sustainability services. That meant, in part, that she had to supervise union workers who had had a difficult history with the person in the manager’s role before Jill.

Jill knew that her predecessor had not been well liked, but now the union reps’ accounts of his tyrannical behavior revealed how bad it had been and how it had damaged relations between management and staff. Her open, honest questions allowed her to understand the situation and opened a space for her to speak from her heart and share her hopes that together they could create a workplace that would be respectful of everyone.

 

10 The Courage to Choose Wisely

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I want my inner truth to be the plumb line for the choices I make about my life—about the work that I do and how I do it, about the relationships I enter into and how I conduct them.

—Parker J. Palmer

Greg Eaton, whom we met in chapter 8, faced a difficult time as a business owner in the years following the 2008 recession. “I was constantly stretched by the reality of living through ’08, ’09, ’10, when the economy was so tough. Wanting to keep the company healthy and profitable and also care for the workforce I care so deeply about, as so many things are shifting . . . Talk about tension.”

In his business organizing corporate meetings and incentive trips, Greg wanted his employees to be as productive as possible and to enjoy what they did—because when they did, it showed. “We clearly are in business to assist clients at a high level of excellence. But what do we do internally for the people here who give the best hours of their day, year after year, to this work so that they feel engaged and know that they’re cared about? That’s what kept me awake during those lean years.”

 

11 The Courage to Connect and Trust in Each Other

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What I want is the impossible. I want as much diversity in things, in people, in places, in ideas as possible. But I want unity among things and people and places and ideas. I want that unity without anything losing its uniqueness.

—Emil Antonucci, illustrator and publisher

If you were to sit down in the campus dining hall at Garrett-Evangelical Theological Seminary, you would find yourself talking to students with a wide range of cultural, language, and theological backgrounds. When Lallene Rector became the new president in 2014, she wanted the school to live even further into its promise to be a place of welcome, inclusion, and diversity. She announced an institutional priority to focus for years to come on matters of race, antiviolence, white normativity and privilege, and competence in cultural diversity, so that these would become a lens through which they did all their work. One of her first matters of attention was one of focusing on creating welcome to LGBTQ persons.

 

12 The Courage to Stay or to Leave

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When is it that I know I have to go someplace else?

When I have to grow—

Or die.

—Diana Chapman Walsh, “Potbound”

Dave Boyer started his engineering career at ITW, a large manufacturing company headquartered in Chicago. As a product designer on the fast track, Dave was in the leadership development program and rose quickly to account management and then to manufacturing manager within a few years. Although he was doing well financially, the stress of the job was taking its toll on his health. He told me, “Physically I wasn’t doing that well. I had ulcerative colitis at the time because I was carrying the stress in my abdomen.”

Then Dave got a call recruiting him to join a much smaller business in Madison, Wisconsin, a plastics packaging company. As Dave recalls it was only an $8 million company of fifty people, but he was intrigued. Dave said people told him, “Don’t do it. Why would you leave this? You’re successful; you’re on the fast track.” Dave took the new job anyway.

 

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